Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, June T., 1962, No. 136, in case of Alpheus Loughner, Jr. and Janice Loughner v. John Schmelzer and Alpheus Loughner, Jr.
Norman D. Jaffe, with him Galbreath, Braham, Gregg, Kirkpatrick & Jaffe, for appellants.
Lee C. McCandless, with him McCandless & McCandless, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen.
The sole question in this case is a narrow one. In an action of trespass for damages resulting from a collision of two automobiles is it a reversible error to admit, over plaintiffs' objection, evidence that the plaintiff was convicted before the Quarter Sessions Court of a violation of The Vehicle Code, Act of April 29, 1959, P. L. 58, § 1004, 75 P.S. § 1004, namely, failure to drive on the right half of the highway?*fn* We hold that evidence of the conviction of a traffic violation or of small misdemeanors is not admissible in a civil suit for damages
arising out of the same traffic violation or lesser misdemeanors.
Plaintiffs, who are husband and wife, brought this action in trespass against defendant for damages arising out of the collision of plaintiffs' and defendant's automobiles. Each party alleged that the other was driving on the wrong side of the road. The jury returned a verdict for defendant and plaintiffs' motion for a new trial was dismissed. After judgment was entered on the verdict, plaintiffs thereupon appealed, alleging that the admission, over their objection, of evidence of a summary conviction of a violation of The Vehicle Code was reversible error. The decision of the lower Court must be reversed.
In Hurtt v. Stirone, 416 Pa. 493, 206 A.2d 624, the Court aptly said (page 499): ". . . we recognize a valid existing distinction in cases involving the record of conviction of relatively minor matters such as traffic violations, lesser misdemeanors, and matters of like import. Especially in traffic violations, expediency and convenience, rather than guilt, often control the defendant's 'trial technique'. . . . Compare also the effect given in Pennsylvania to a plea of nolo contendere: Teslovich v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., 110 Pa. Superior Ct. 245, 168 A. 354 (1933). The policy shifts with regard to major criminal convictions such as the one presented."
We have held that an important distinction exists between traffic violations and lesser misdemeanors on the one hand and felonies and their consequences on the other hand. The law with respect to the latter class of cases may be found in Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission v. U. S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., 412 Pa. 222, 194 A.2d 423; Kravitz Estate, 418 Pa. 319, 211 A.2d 443; Commonwealth v. Evans, 399 Pa. 387, 160 A.2d 407; Greifer's Estate, 333 Pa. 278, 5 A.2d 118; Mineo v. Eureka Security Fire & Marine Insurance Co.,
Pa. Superior Ct. 75, 125 A.2d 612; and Hurtt v. Stirone, 416 ...