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SHOTTS v. PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE COMMISSION (07/01/68)

decided: July 1, 1968.

SHOTTS
v.
PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE COMMISSION, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Fulton County, June T., 1966, No. 22, in case of Paul K. Shotts and Nellie K. Shotts v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

COUNSEL

George R. Specter, Assistant General Counsel, with him Harry W. Lightstone, General Counsel, for Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, appellant.

Albert M. Nichols, with him John F. Dent and Irving L. Bloom, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Mr. Justice O'Brien joins in this dissenting opinion.

Author: Musmanno

[ 431 Pa. Page 84]

Paul K. Shotts and Nellie K. Shotts own a 135.24-acre tract of land in Fulton County. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, in laying out the project known as Rays Hill and Seidling Hill Tunnel By-Pass, condemned 21.25 acres of this tract, bisecting it, so

[ 431 Pa. Page 85]

    that 60 acres lay on the north side of the route and 75 acres on the south side. On their land the Shotts operated a dairy farm equipped with all the necessary buildings for such purpose. 77 acres in the northern portion of the tract were used as crop land and 45 acres (through which flowed a small stream) were used for pasture; 13 acres constituted wooded area.

The board of view appraised the damage done the Shotts by taking of their land at $13,000. The Shotts appealed to the court of common pleas and the jury trial which followed resulted in a verdict of $25,583.33. The commission moved for a new trial on the ground of excessiveness of verdict which was refused, and it has appealed to this Court.

Paul Shotts testified that his damages amounted to $35,000; his expert witness testified to damages amounting to $19,000; the Commonwealth's expert witness found a loss in land value of only $8,650. The Shotts argue for retention of the verdict on the loss of crop land area plus damage to their remaining property because of drainage resulting from the highway construction which will contaminate the stream flowing through the pasture land, from which their cattle drink.

The appellant advances several arguments as to why it is entitled to a new trial, but, boiled down to its essence, it is that the great disparity between the amount awarded by the board of view and the verdict of the jury shows that the jury must have been wrong. If the estimate of a board of view is to be regarded as final and infallible, there would be no need in the law for appeal for a jury trial. What was said in Springer v. Allegheny County, 401 Pa. 557, is applicable here, namely, "The value of the land appropriated was the only substantial issue the jury had to resolve. . . . In arriving at a just determination of the fair market value, the jury had as criteria the customarily widely disparate opinions of the real estate experts who testified for

[ 431 Pa. Page 86]

    the respective sides. It was the province of the jury to weigh the credibility of the valuation witnesses' testimony and to determine what the land was fairly worth at the time of the condemnation. The jurors had a right to, and undoubtedly did, bring to bear, in appraising the expert testimony, what they had perceived with respect to the property at the time they formally viewed it for trial purposes and, further exercised their own good common sense. To overthrow the verdict on the ground that ...


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