its director, Mr. T. A. Oravecz. He said, 'The Bureau of Industrial Standards, as the name more or less implies by 'Industrial Standards', is the agency which acts as the initiating office, the clearinghouse for forging ahead in the drafting the proposal, the writing, the maintaining of safety regulations up to date in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition, a very important item is the consideration of approval of various devices and safety appliances which are required to be considered by the Industrial Board and which are referred to the Bureau of Industrial Standards as the engineering office to make a determined analysis and recommendation of report * * *' (NT172). 'During the month of August of 1955, * * * the entire inspection staff, including Bureau directors, undertook a program, a five-week training program, on the techniques of safety inspection and investigation to be conducted throughout the Commonwealth in line with the specific workings and duties of the Department of Labor and Industry.' (NT173). With this explanation, Mr. Oravecz proceeded to testify that the Hobart grinder did not comply with Rule 4 of the Department's Regulations. He also testified, as an expert in his own right, that in his opinion the Hobart machine was not reasonably safe for the operator and should have been designed so as to include one or more of three separate safety devices known to the industry. In addition, the plaintiff produced another expert who testified to the existence and necessity of the same sort of safety devices.
The jury having been presented with the evidence described above, the trial judge instructed the jury on the role of the expert witness in a case of this kind and also instructed them that they could consider the Safety Law and the Regulations of the Department of Labor and Industry as a factor in their deliberations when they were deciding whether the design of the Hobart grinder was reasonably safe or whether Hobart was negligent in failing to include some of the safety devices described in the evidence. It must be emphasized that the jury was instructed in all of the common elements of the law of negligence, and was not merely told that if they found a violation of the Safety Law or the Regulations that the defendant Hobart would be liable.
Throughout the trial, counsel for Hobart took the position that the Safety Law and the Regulations did not 'apply' to Hobart, since the statutory language clearly indicated the intention of the Legislature to compel employers to use only certain type machinery, or to guard machinery properly. This contention was extended by counsel for Hobart so as to form a basis for objection to the presentation of any evidence of what the Pennsylvania law and the Department's Regulations were as regards meat grinders. Now, in his motion for a new trial, counsel for defendant argues that it was error for the trial judge to allow the jury to decide whether the Safety Law and the Regulations 'applied' to Hobart. 'Construction and application (of statutes) is for the Court not for the jury,' says counsel. However, as we view this case, it was never necessary for anyone to 'construe' or 'apply' the statute. An example of cases in which statutes must be construed and applied are cases in which the defendant is charged with having violated the statute and the question to be decided is whether the penalties provided for in the statute are to be imposed on the defendant. Obviously, that was not the situation in the case at bar. We specifically told the jury, 'We are not here trying Hobart as to whether they violated the laws of the Commonwealth or not.' (Charge of the Court, p. 370.) Another example of cases in which statutes are construed and applied are cases in which the Court thinks it appropriate to charge the jury that if they find a violation of the statute, they may return a verdict against the defendant. In such 'negligence per se' cases, the Court has determined that the statute was designed to protect a class of persons, of which the plaintiff was a member, against the type of harm which plaintiff suffered. As we understand the law under such circumstances, the Court is justified in instructing the jury that any violation of the statute, which was a proximame cause of the plaintiff's injuries, imposes liability upon the defendant. But in the case at bar, the jury was instructed to return a verdict against Hobart only if they found that Hobart had been negligent. They were told what negligence is, and were instructed to decide whether or not Hobart had acted with reasonable prudence in adopting the design of the meat grinder.
It is black letter law that Courts and not juries construe and apply statutes. But we think counsel for defendant misunderstands the function that the statute served in this case. This was not a proceeding under the statute: nor was the rule of 'negligence per se' involved. Rather, this was an ordinary negligence action in which the General Safety Law and the Regulations were before the jury as evidence of the considered judgment of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as to the safety features of design necessary to make a meat grinder a reasonably safe machine. The jury had the General Safety Law and the Regulations before it as a guide, a standard, by which they could compare the actual design of the Hobart grinder with the features of safety design required to be present on machinery used in places of employment in Pennsylvania. We think that such evidence was pertinent to the questions of whether Hobart could have, or should have, provided this grinder with additional features of safety devices. We can perceive no other sense in which a discussion of the so-called 'applicability' of the statute and regulations to Hobart is germane to the case at bar.
And now, to wit, this 22, day of May, 1961, it is hereby ordered that the defendant Hobart's motion for judgment n.o.v. is denied; the defendant Hobart's motion for a new trial is denied.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.