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SPANGLER v. HELM'S NEW YORK-PITTSBURGH MOTOR EXPRESS. (07/02/59)

July 2, 1959

SPANGLER, APPELLANT,
v.
HELM'S NEW YORK-PITTSBURGH MOTOR EXPRESS.



Appeal, No. 189, Jan. T., 1959, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, Dec. T., 1955, No. 50, in case of Clyde G. Spangler, administrator of estate of Regina E. Spangler, deceased v. Helm's New York-Pittsburgh Motor Express. Order reversed. Trespass for wrongful death and survival action. Before EHRGOOD, P.J. Verdicts in amount of $679.54 in wrongful death action and in amount of $45,380 in survival action; order entered granting defendant's motion for new trial, unless plaintiff filed remittitur in amount of $17,861.04. Plaintiff appealed.

COUNSEL

L. E. Meyer, with him J. R. Whitman, and Meyer, Brubaker & Whitman, for appellant.

Clarke McA. Seltzer, with him George L. Holstein, Jr., for appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen and Bok, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 396 Pa. Page 483]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

Mrs. Regina E. Spangler, 36 years of age, was killed in an automobile accident, caused by the negligence of the driver of a tractor-trailer owned by Helm's New York-Pittsburgh Motor Express, the defendant in this case. Clyde G. Spangler, husband of the decedent and now administrator of her estate, brought actions against the defendant under the Wrongful Death and Survival Acts. The jury returned a verdict in his favor in the sum of $679.54 in the Wrongful Death Act action and $45,380 under the Survival Act, for a total of $46,059.54.

The Trial Judge declared the verdict excessive and ordered a new trial unless the plaintiff agreed to file a remittitur in the amount of $17,861.04, thus reducing the verdict to $28,198.50. The plaintiff refused to file such a remittitur and this appeal followed.

The decedent Mrs. Spangler, who, at the time of her death, had a life expectancy of 32.59 years, was survived

[ 396 Pa. Page 484]

    by her husband and three children, aged respectively 14 years, 13 years, and 5 months. The only question on this appeal must be stated in terms which might seem materialistic, namely: What did Mrs. Spangler mean to these people in terms of money? Naturally, no husband and no children see in the person dearest to them a money equivalent, and, during life, such an evaluation would be unqualifiedly brutal and offensive. However, with death, problems arise which must be solved, harsh and heartrending as they may be. Thus, as Mr. Spangler and his children now face a future with the main pillar of their family structure missing, the question inescapably follows: How much do they need to supplant that pillar?

To begin with, there was very definite physical work performed by Mrs. Spangler, for which no sums were drawn from the family budget. Money is now needed to pay for those services. Mrs. Spangler did the household work: she washed, ironed, cooked, and sewed. She did all the housecleaning, made some of the children's clothing, helped her husband paint the house, she put together draperies and rugs. All these services can be translated into pecuniary values because one can presumably go into the labor market and find a housekeeper to perform those labors. But the amount paid to such a housekeeper would not compensate for Mrs. Spangler's displacement. There are services performed by a wife-mother which no housekeeper can supply.

The fact that there is no mathematical formula whereby compassionately bestowed benefits can be converted into a precise number of bank notes does not mean that the tort-feasor will be excused from making suitable reimbursement for their loss. The law commands that the wrongdoer pay what justice requires and common sense ...


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