Appeal, No. 464, Jan. T., 1961, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Feb. T., 1960, No. 35, in case of Rodney M. Bowman v. Columbia Telephone Company. Judgment affirmed; reargument refused April 4, 1962.
F. Lyman Windolph, with him Windolph, Burkholder & Hartman, for appellant.
Harris C. Arnold, with him John W. Beyer, and Arnold, Bricker, Beyer & Barnes, for appellee.
Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and Alpern, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO
On the morning of March 20, 1958, at about 5:45, Rodney M. Bowman, 58 years of age, got into his two-door Chevrolet automobile at his home in Florin, Lancaster County, to drive to Pomeroy in Chester County (about nine miles west of Coatesville) where he was employed as a maintenance of way man by the Pennsylvania Railroad. A light snow was falling and it had already carpeted the ground around his home to a depth of five inches. He followed Route 230, passed through Mount Joy, and was at a point some 300 feet west of Twin-Kiss when an accident befell him, the mishap being the subject of the lawsuit here under consideration.
The highway was lined at suitable intervals with telephone poles, their crests rising to a height of 40 feet above the whitened terrain. At the point indicated, Bowman was startled by a sound which he thought was a clap of thunder. The next sensation of which he was aware was that the roof of his car had disappeared, together with his hat and eyeglasses. He related that he got out of the car "got up on the hood and slid down on the snow."
Four telephone poles had snapped and stretched their broken lengths along the highway, one of them (later identified as Pole No. 16) having landed on Bowman's car, shearing away the roof and the windshield and in its violent momentum having smashed Bowman's eyeglasses, broken his dental plate and fractured three of his dorsal vertebrae. The car was reduced to junk.
He brought suit against the Columbia Telephone Company, owners and maintainers of the poles and, in the ensuing trial, the jury awarded him a total verdict of $10,830 for his personal and property damage.
The defendant moved for judgment n.o.v., which motion was refused. This appeal followed.
It is the contention of the telephone company that it is absolved from any blame for Rodman's misfortune because Rodman came to grief as the result of what the defendant calls an "Act of God." In its answer to the plaintiff's complaint, it averred under the heading of new matter: "The breaking and falling of the telephone pole referred to in the complaint did not arise from any negligence on the part of the defendant, its servants, agents, or employees, but resulted from an act of God. Said act of God consisted of a snowfall of unprecedented or almost unprecedented depth and weight, which began on March 19, 1958 and continued on March 20, 1958. At 6:15 a.m. on March 20, ...