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BRANDON v. PEOPLES NATURAL GAS COMPANY (03/16/65)

decided: March 16, 1965.

BRANDON, APPELLANT,
v.
PEOPLES NATURAL GAS COMPANY



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Indiana County, March T., 1963, No. 203, in case of Eustace Brandon and Nora Brandon v. The Peoples Natural Gas Company.

COUNSEL

Robert C. Earley, with him W. Thomas Malcolm, for appellants.

Joseph W. Serene, with him Robert M. Jacob, and Serene & Fee, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen.

Author: Cohen

[ 417 Pa. Page 130]

This is an appeal by plaintiffs below from a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in an action of trespass brought against defendant gas company by plaintiffs, husband and wife. The action was brought for property damage and personal injury resulting from a fire and explosion which destroyed their home and injured the husband.

In considering defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v. the lower court was obliged to "view the evidence, together with all reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the verdict-winner," Bortz v. Henne, 415 Pa. 150, 151, 202 A.2d 49, 50 (1964). In so viewing the evidence it is necessary to determine whether the lower court properly ruled that, as a matter of law, negligence on the part of the defendant was not a proximate cause of plaintiffs' injuries.

The evidence adduced clearly was sufficient to allow the jury to find that a fire and explosion occurred

[ 417 Pa. Page 131]

    in plaintiffs' home on January 25, 1961, that for years prior to and including the time of the fire and explosion defendant supplied natural gas to the home of plaintiffs, which they used for cooking and water heating purposes, that the gas was piped into the house through the basement and a meter located therein, that, in the summer preceding the fire and up to the preceding October, wife-plaintiff and some of her friends frequently smelled a gas odor throughout plaintiffs' home, that, in this period, wife-plaintiff telephoned the defendant gas company several times complaining about the odor, that the defendant company failed to respond to the calls, that, immediately after the fire, the fire chief went to the basement of the plaintiffs' home and discovered gas leaking in front of and behind the valve which shuts off the gas flow into a gas meter, which had been installed by defendant in 1959 and which was owned by it.

Because the jury could reasonably have found that, prior to the accident, defendant was on notice that there might have been gas leaks in plaintiffs' home, it is clear that defendant had some duty, we need not determine its precise extent, to investigate or locate the trouble, if any. Steele v. Peoples Natural Gas Company, 386 Pa. 439, 445, 127 A.2d 96, 99 (1956); Stephany v. Equitable Gas Company, 347 Pa. 110, 113, 31 A.2d 523, 525 (1943); Windish v. Peoples Natural Gas Company, 248 Pa. 236, 93 Atl. 1003 (1915). Moreover, the jury could reasonably have found that defendant did not discharge this duty.

Defendant and lower court do not seriously question the propriety of the preceding findings. Instead, two independent reasons, both relating to proximate cause, are advanced in support of the lower court's grant of the judgment n.o.v.: (1) that the evidence set forth above does not ...


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