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LA SOTA v. PHILADELPHIA TRANSPORTATION COMPANY (05/02/66)

decided: May 2, 1966.

LA SOTA
v.
PHILADELPHIA TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 4 of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1959, No. 324, in case of Phyllis La Sota and Edwin L. La Sota, her husband v. Philadelphia Transportation Company.

COUNSEL

William J. McKinley, Jr., for appellant.

Sheldon L. Albert, with him James E. Beasley, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Mr. Justice Roberts concurs in the result. Mr. Chief Justice Bell dissents and would enter judgment for the defendant n.o.v. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen.

Author: Musmanno

[ 421 Pa. Page 387]

In the early morning of March 25, 1958, Phyllis La Sota boarded in Philadelphia an autobus of the Philadelphia Transportation Company, which was to take her to Roosevelt Boulevard and Adam Avenue, this particular stop being known as "the Sears-Roebuck" stop. By the time the bus arrived at a point designated as East of Broad Street, the bus had acquired such an influx of passengers that they occupied all the seats, crowded the aisles, jostled forward and across the dividing white line behind the driver's seat (and beyond

[ 421 Pa. Page 388]

    which passengers were not to go) and massed into the stairwell leading to the front door. As the bus proceeded over the stretch between East of Broad Street and the Sears-Roebuck stop, a distance of about two miles, the passengers stirred, pushed and shoved backward and forward and from side to side, creating a situation of disorder which was wholly ignored by the bus driver.

When the bus arrived at the Sears-Roebuck stop, Mrs. La Sota rose from her seat but, on account of the multitude of persons encumbering the aisles, surrounding the coin box and jamming against the sides of the passageway, it took her some two minutes to reach the top of the stairwell where she was unable to obtain protection of the handrailing because of the people huddled against it. At this point a surging movement of the impatient passengers threw her forward catapulting her out onto the pavement opposite the opened doors. The accompanying violence inflicted on her serious injuries. With her husband, she entered suit against the Philadelphia Transportation Company and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs.

The defendant company asks for judgment n.o.v., contending that it breached no duty owing to Mrs. La Sota. Whatever injuries she sustained, the defendant argues, resulted from the rudeness of her fellow-passengers, over which it had no control, and that her injuries happened after she had reached her destination. What duty did the carrier owe to Mrs. La Sota? By taking her fare, it committed itself to the responsibility of transporting her safely and delivering her safely. It would little serve a passenger to transport him safely and treat him with kindness throughout the entire journey and then kill him with negligence at the end. In Lyons v. Pitts. Rys. Co., 301 Pa. 499, re-approved in Brown v. Ambridge Yellow Cab Co., 374 Pa. 208, 212, this Court said: "'A common carrier for hire owes

[ 421 Pa. Page 389]

    to its passengers the highest degree of care and diligence in carrying them to their destination and [in] enabling them to alight safely (Hughes v. Pittsburgh Transportation Co., 300 Pa. 55) and to avoid any possible danger while doing so.'"

The defendant company maintains that it cannot supervise the conduct of its passengers, and advances the strange proposition that it cannot be held responsible for misconduct on the part of its transportees unless what they do amounts to a breach of the peace. But it would indeed be a sorry state of affairs if a passenger would have no protection from unruliness and misbehavior in a railroad car, streetcar or autobus unless tumult in the vehicle reached that state of disorderliness that it called for the intervention of the police or the marines. The defendant's argument, in this respect, peculiarly enough, seems to have some ostensible authority because in Ellinger v. Philadelphia, Wilmington, etc., 153 Pa. 213 (decided in 1893) this Court said: "Unless such conduct amounts to a breach of the peace the officers of the law can take no cognizance of it, and carriers are not bound to prevent it or liable in damages for its appearance about their stations or trains." This statement, as one reads that case, is dictum and was obviously the unrestrained thought of the opinion writer who remained aboard the vehicle of enthusiastic expression which went beyond the station of the required factual adjudication. Nevertheless, the cited statement, standing alone, ...


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