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WALBERT v. FARINA. (07/02/63)

July 2, 1963

WALBERT, APPELLANT,
v.
FARINA.



Appeal, No. 216, Jan. T., 1963, from orders of Superior Court, Cot. T., 1962, Nos. 290 and 291, affirming judgments of Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, May T., 1962, Nos. 155 and 156, in case of Esther E. Walbert, administratrix of estate of Robert R. Walbert, deceased, v. Jerome Farina. Orders reversed.

COUNSEL

Charles H. Weidner, with him David J. Batdorf, and Stevens & Lee, for appellant.

George R. Eves, for appellee.

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

Author: Musmanno

[ 411 Pa. Page 402]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

Robert R. Walbert was killed as the result of an accident which occurred on December 1, 1957, when his car was struck by a car being driven by Jerome Farina. Mrs. Esther E. Walbert, his widow, as administratrix of his estate, brought actions of trespass against Farina under the Death and Survival Acts of Pennsylvania. The jury returned a verdict in the sum of $1500 for the plaintiff in the survival action and $2762.23 in the death action, this latter amount being merely the total of medical, hospital and funeral bills. The plaintiff moved for a new trial averring inadequacy of verdict. The trial court refused the motion and the plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court which affirmed the refusal of a new trial. A petition for allocatur followed and we allowed appeal to this Court.

If the defendant Jerome Farina was responsible for the collision which snuffed out the life of Robert Walbert, it would seem, by the slightest glance at the total verdict, that it does not represent an amount consonant with the value of a man's life, especially one who was only 49 when killed. The decedent was employed as an erector at the Textile Machine Works, working both at the local plant in Reading, and away from home on various assignments and missions for his company. His earnings for 1957, up to the date of his death, were $5923.47, plus $868.50 for hotel and travel expenses.

[ 411 Pa. Page 403]

In 1956 his earnings amounted to $8,060.17, plus $945 for out-of-town expenses.

Robert Walbert had a life expectancy at the time of his death of 23.36 years. He was in excellent health and there appeared no reason why he could not remain at his job until he attained the age of 65. To allow in a profitable prospectus of that character only $500 per year for only three years is shocking, if one regards verdicts as being compensatory for losses sustained. To deny the widow any amount for the loss of wages between the date of her husband's death and the time of trial and for no future loss of anticipatable future earnings is also unacceptable arithmetic on the blackboard of justice, if the defendant was responsible for the death of Robert Walbert.

When a jury conscientiously concludes that a defendant has no excuse for doing what he did in truncating the life of another, it may not, by extra-juridical reasoning or by wandering off into the realms of whimsy and neighborhood philosophy, withhold from the plaintiff what, by its verdict, it has decided he is entitled to have, namely, full compensation for his losses.

It would appear that the decedent, a day or two before the accident, had removed some of his clothes from the marital home to another address in Reading where he had rented two rooms. The lower court, in refusing a new trial, rhetorically asked the questions: "Were Mr. and Mrs. Walbert actually living together as husband and wife, were they separated, or were they about to separate? Could the jury have asked the question ...


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