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GREEN v. INDEPENDENT OIL COMPANY (04/21/64)

April 21, 1964

GREEN
v.
INDEPENDENT OIL COMPANY, APPELLANT.



Appeals, Nos. 315 and 316, Jan. T., 1963, from judgments of Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County, May T., 1961, Nos. 367 and 368, in cases of Verna M. Green, administratrix of estate of Norman B. Green, v. Independent Oil Company, Woodrow Graffius, and Gordon K. Reeves, administrator of estate of Woodrow Graffius, Jr.; Gordon K. Reeves, administrator of estate of Woodrow Graffius, Jr., v. Independent Oil Company, Woodrow Graffius and Verna M. Greene, administratrix of estate of Norman B. Green. Judgments against defendant, Independent Oil Company, reversed; reargument refused June 22, 1964.

COUNSEL

Harold E. McCamey, with him Dickie, McCamey, Chilcote & Robinson, for appellant.

Carl A. Belin, with him Belin & Belin, and Urey & Mikesell, for appellees.

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

Author: Jones

[ 414 Pa. Page 479]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES

On July 2, 1960, Independent Oil Company (Independent), a Delaware corporation, owned a certain property in Clearfield Borough, Clearfield County, improved with a building used as a gasoline service station. This property and building were occupied by Woodrow Graffius (Graffius), under a written lease with Independent.

"The gas station consists of a large room with a very wide door opening on the street, in which two motor vehicles may enter. A hoist for raising vehicles above the floor level, to permit work and attention underneath, is in this room. The other part of this space is for placing of cars for washing and other servicing that may be required. At one end of the service room is an enclosed space used as an office, and toward the rear of the service room is a smaller room used as a storage room."*fn1

At approximately 10 p.m. on July 2, 1960, Graffius' minor son, Woodrow Graffius, Jr., and Norman Green,

[ 414 Pa. Page 480]

    a soft drink customer, were on the premises, standing near the doorway between the service room and the storage room. Graffius and Larry Schultz, an employee of Graffius, closing the station for the night, were cleaning the station floor. Schultz was engaged in throwing over the floor a mixture of kerosene and gasoline,*fn2 and Graffius was sweeping this mixture around, together with soap, to clean the floor. Shortly after starting to spread the mixture on the floor, Graffius heard a "cracking noise" and Schultz heard a "boom". Both saw a sheet of flame sweep through the service room and then saw both Graffius, Jr. and Green staggering out, severely burned. "The service room showed no evidence of explosion, and very little evidence of fire. According to the explosive expert subpoenaed by [Independent and Graffius], the kerosene-gasoline mixture used was highly volatile and inflammable. Gasoline evaporates into the air, and is heavier than the air. The fumes spread rapidly throughout the air. Any spark or fire of any kind, static electricity, defective wiring, or from a firecracker, could cause the gasoline in the air to ignite, burn throughout the air rapidly, and would make a sound when it ignited ...."*fn3 Both Graffius, Jr. and Green died as the result of the burns received.

In the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County two separate trespass actions were instituted: (a) an action by Green's personal representative against Independent and Graffius, defendants, wherein Graffius, Jr.'s personal representative was joined as an additional defendant; (b) an action by Graffius, Jr.'s personal representative against Independent and Graffius, defendants, wherein Green's personal representative was joined as an additional defendant. These actions

[ 414 Pa. Page 481]

    were tried before a court and jury,*fn4 and the jury rendered separate verdicts: a $72,370.70 verdict in favor of Green's personal representative against Independent and Graffius, and a $13,093.75 verdict in favor of Graffius, Jr.'s personal representative against Independent and Graffius. Graffius' motions for a new trial and judgments n.o.v. were not pursued. Independent's motions for a new trial and ...


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