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MCSPARRAN v. FORD MOTOR CO.

January 27, 1965

Stella McSPARRAN, Administratrix of the Estate of Frank J. Katona, Deceased,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY and Vincent Montone, Inc.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BODY

After a jury verdict for the defendants, the plaintiff seeks a new trial.

The complaint was filed as the result of a truck accident which occurred on February 28, 1959 resulting in the death of Frank J. Katona; subsequently, Stella McSparran was named Administratrix of decedent's estate.

 The decedent was killed while trying to negotiate a turn at approximately the bottom of the Brandonville Mountain road located in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. This hill road was described as being a mile to a mile and a quarter in length with a rather steep grade. The truck in question, a Ford, was sold to the decedent on May 7, 1958 by Vincent Montone, Inc., an authorized Ford Motor Company dealer, nearly ten months before the date of the accident. From that date until the time of the accident the vehicle was driven approximately 29,500 miles with no services, no maintenance, and no alterations upon the truck motor by Vincent Montone, Inc., except on items of body damage repairs during January of 1959, with which repairs we are not concerned as related to the accident.

 Plaintiff contended that the accident was the result of a defective manufacture and fabrication of the air compressor belt, which was a component part of the air brake system of the truck. The purpose of this belt was to transmit power from the crankshaft to the air compressor, thus maintaining the reserve of air necessary to cause the air brakes on the truck to function properly at all times. Once the belt was broken, the air compressor would cease to function with the end result that no additional air would be produced for the tank. However, the air brake system would continue to function under these conditions with sufficient air to bring the vehicle to a stop before the air was exhausted. A buzzer would sound when the air pressure in the reservoir tank would reduce to approximately sixty pounds, thus warning the driver of a loss of air in the tank and the compressing system. The resulting action would be the ultimate inability of the air brakes to function. It is important to note that the truck also had a mechanical brake but there is no testimony as to its condition.

 The only survivor and eye witness to the accident was Frank J. Katona, Jr., son of the decedent, then age seventeen. The witness testified that when the truck (a gross weight of 25,000 pounds), carrying eight tons of coal, was less than one-fourth of the way down the hill, he heard a sharp slapping sound from under the hood, which was followed immediately thereafter by the sound of the air brake buzzer, indicating a failure in the air pressure system of the brakes. Further testimony by the witness revealed that the decedent took the truck out of third low gear in an attempt to shift into second low gear when proceeding at least at twenty (20) to twenty-five (25) miles per hour. Thereafter, decedent and son rode the truck down the hill with neither brakes operating, nor with the engine in gear, reaching a speed of one hundred (100) to one hundred fifty (150) miles per hour at the time the witness last remembers, which was at a point still on the road near the impact with the tree, which tree was off the road. This tree was to the right of a prolongation of the center line of Brandonville Mountain road, and off to the left of another road going slightly upgrade. Decedent's son testified that they tried to turn right, up the other hill. This is an important factor as one of the witnesses for the defendant, in explaining the travel route of the truck, contended that the decedent tried to turn right instead of going straight ahead and continuing down to the bottom of the hill. Pictures indicate the 'Y' in the roads.

 Both plaintiff and defendants relied on expert testimony to prove their respective contentions to the jury. After a lengthy twelve day trial, which was vigorously and ably conducted by all parties, the jury was submitted the following interrogatories, and their answers thereto are shown:

 '1. Was Ford Motor Company negligent? No.

 '2. Was Vincent Montone, Inc. negligent? No.

 '3. Did Ford Motor Company breach any warranty? No.

 '4. Did Vincent Montone, Inc. breach any warranty? No.

 '4(a) If you answer 'yes' to Question #4 -- did the breach of warranty of Vincent Montone, Inc. result from any repairs or replacement of any parts from the time the truck was sold to the decedent on May 7, 1958 up until the time of the accident? (No answer)

 '5. If you have answered 'yes' to any of Questions #1 through #4 -- was such negligence or breach of warranty the proximate cause of the accident? (No answer)

 '6. Was decedent Frank Katona guilty of any negligence which contributed to the happening ...


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