Appeal, No. 90, Jan. T., 1964, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, Feb. T., 1960, No. 115, in case of Earl Himmelreich v. Earl Beidler, William H. Sweitzer, Richard E. Law, Inc. et al. Judgment affirmed.
Mark C. McQuillen, with him Norman E. Dettra, Jr., for appellant.
John A. Hoffert, Jr., with him Matten & Cottom, for appellee.
Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Cohen, Eagen, O'brien and Roberts, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO
For many years prior to November 10, 1958, it was the custom of the employees at the Karl Lieberknecht,
Inc. machine shop in Laureldale, Berks County, to leave the shop and enter, to the rear thereof, an open area for the purpose of "taking a smoke," consuming a lunch they had brought with them or to get a lungful of uncontaminated, fresh air. On the night of the date indicated, the plaintiff in this case, who had been employed at the plant for 15 years, feeling somewhat ill, stepped out into that open space to enjoy a few draughts of revitalizing air, when he discovered before he could do anything about it that the ground which had been solidly beneath his feet for fifteen years, was no longer there. He felt himself falling and eventually landed at the bottom of a pit, subsequently ascertained to be some 12 feet deep, 30 feet long and 10 feet wide. Unable to climb back to the surface because of the injuries he sustained in his precipitate descent, he threw stones at a window in the shop, attracting the attention of fellow-workers who, by means of a litter and ladder, lifted him to ground level and placed him aboard and ambulance which conveyed him to a hospital.
It developed later that Richard E. Law, Inc., had been engaged to make an excavation at this point so that a 10,000-gallon tank could be installed subterraneously. Law, Inc., began its excavating work on the morning of November 10, 1958, but did not erect any barriers around the deepening and widening trench nor did it employ any devices to warn the employees of the machine shop so that they might be informed of the dangerous rent in the earth which could not be seen at night because of the absence of lighting.
Himmelreich brought a suit in trespass against Law and recovered a money verdict for his injuries.*fn1 Law has appealed.
The appellant argues that Earl Himmelreich was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law because he entered into a darkened area at night, thus failing to exercise the reasonable care which was his duty. The locus in quo here was a clearing in which the Lieberknecht employees had built cement and wooden benches and which they used, as already stated, as a spot for brief relaxation periods. It was not lighted at night because the company regulations forbade illumination under the circumstances obtaining at the time of the accident. Samuel I. Fry, watchman and fireman at the plant, testified: "Q. Were there any ...