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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ELDRIDGE. (09/25/62)

September 25, 1962

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF HIGHWAYS, APPELLANT,
v.
ELDRIDGE.



Appeal, No. 17, May T., 1962, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Jan. T., 1960, No. 294, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Highways V. Luby W. Eldridge, Harold E. Trego and Leaman Transportation Corporation. Judgment reversed.

COUNSEL

Michael J. Stack, Jr., Special Assistant Attorney General, with him J. Shane Creamer, Special Assistant Attorney General, John R. Rezzolla, Jr. and Alan Miles Ruben, Deputy Attorneys General, and David Stahl, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellant.

David F. Kaliner, Edward C. German, and LaBrum and Doak, for appellees.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen and O'brien, JJ.

Author: Eagen

[ 408 Pa. Page 392]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE EAGEN

On January 7, 1959, about eleven a.m., a tractor trailer loaded with fuel oil collided with a section of the Pencoyd Viaduct, a bridge forming a part of the Schuylkill Expressway, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, causing substantial damage to the bridge construction. Alleging that the negligent operation of the tractor trailer was responsible for the accident, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Highways, instituted this action for damages against Eldridge, the operator; Trego, the owner of the tractor; and the Leaman Transportation Corporation, owner of the trailer.

After a trial, lasting two weeks, the jury returned a verdict for the defendants. Plaintiff's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial were denied. From the judgment entered upon the verdict, the plaintiff appeals.

Plaintiff's contention is that trial errors require the grant of a new trial. Under the proof, the trial court could not legally have directed a verdict for the plaintiff,

[ 408 Pa. Page 393]

    hence the merit of the motion for judgment n.o.v. need not detain us.

Salient portions of the testimony may be fairly summarized as follows: On the day in question, the tractor trailer, traveling in normal fashion in a westerly direction on the expressway, suddenly went out of control, ricochetted off the curbing and railing of the bridge, caught fire, causing substantial damage to the vehicle and the bridge. There were no known eyewitnesses to the incident except the operator of the vehicle.

The plaintiff offered in evidence the testimony of an officer of the Pennsylvania State Police, who arrived on the scene shortly after the occurrence. He described, the condition and position of the vehicle and the roadway; skid marks leading from the wheels of the truck eastward for approximately 200 feet; how he questioned the operator, Eldridge, who told him that about a mile east from the collision scene the truck suddenly pulled to the right as if it were going out of control; that the unit bumped up and down; that he did not stop or slow the vehicle to determine the cause of the pull; that the truck continued to travel at about 45 miles per hour and 10 or 15 seconds after entering the bridge, the truck again pulled to the right and despite efforts to control it, collided with ...


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