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QUINN v. KUMAR (03/20/70)

decided: March 20, 1970.


Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1966, No. 309, in case of William J. Quinn, Jr. v. Velma Kumar et al.


James F. Manley, with him Burns, Manley & Little, for appellant.

William W. McVay, with him James R. Duffy, and McArdle, McLaughlin, Paletta & McVay, for appellee.

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

Author: Pomeroy

[ 437 Pa. Page 270]

After trial of this trespass action, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff against one of the original defendants, Velma Kumar, individually and trading and doing business as the Sylvan Sheet Metal Company (Sylvan) in the amount of $125,000.*fn1 This appeal was taken from judgment entered after the court below denied Sylvan's motions for judgment n.o.v. and a new trial on the condition that plaintiff accept a remittitur of $30,000. The remittitur was accepted.

[ 437 Pa. Page 271]

The plaintiff, a structural ironworker, was injured while working for Acme Welding and Erection Co. at the Mayfair Shopping Center in Bethel Park, Pa. Acme was the project's subcontractor for the erection of the structural steel. At the time, the shopping center building was only partially erected; only the steel columns, together with the steel beams which connected them, were in place. The structure was divided into a number of forty-eight foot square bays. Spanning each bay, from beam to beam, were "bar joists", steel members which were to support the roof. These bar joints were not of the same weight or strength as the steel beams and were intended to support only the roof and whatever snow might accumulate on it. The roof was to be constructed by first placing steel decking upon the bar joists and then placing insulation on top of the decking.

Although the bar joists were laid in place, they were not initially secured to the beams; they were to be secured at a later stage of construction. Approximately one week prior to March 22, 1968, the date on which plaintiff sustained his injuries, bundles of steel decking were placed upon the bar joists under the direction of Sylvan (a sub-subcontractor under defendant Funk for the installation of the decking) by a crane and crew which it had hired. Because of the weight of these bundles of steel decking and their placement away from the supporting beams, the bar joists sagged and bowed.

Shortly before the accident, the plaintiff was told by his foreman, a Mr. Dawson, to get a ladder from the far side of one of the bays. In doing so, he walked beneath five or six bar joists on which were resting two bundles of steel decking. While he was walking back with the ladder, the bar joists gave way and, together with the bundles of decking, fell upon the plaintiff causing him serious bodily injury.

[ 437 Pa. Page 272]

Appellant contends initially that a judgment n.o.v. should have been entered in its favor because the plaintiff failed to prove any negligence on its part. As noted in the opinion of the court below, this case was given to the jury on the theory that either the conduct of Sylvan in having the bundles of decking placed on the bar joists too far out from the beams or the conduct of Acme in not securing the bar joists to the beams before allowing the bundles of decking to be placed on them, or both, could have been negligent and the proximate cause of the collapse which injured the plaintiff. The jury apparently found that negligent placement of the decking caused the accident, and so found against Sylvan. We are of the opinion that the evidence supports this verdict.

Mr. Dawson, an experienced ironworker and Acme's foreman supervising plaintiff at the time of the accident, testified that the further from the beam the decking bundles are placed, the more strain is placed on the bar joists. He also testified that the bundles should have been placed on the joists closer to the points where they rested on beams in order to afford more support. From this testimony, which was uncontroverted, the jury could infer that the decking was negligently placed. We have often said that in cases of falling objects the proof necessary to establish negligence under the circumstances need be only slight. Stewart v. Morow, 403 Pa. 459, 462, 170 A.2d 338 (1961); Rucinski v. Cohn, 297 Pa. 105, 114, 146 Atl. 445 (1929); Dougherty v. Phila. Rapid Transit Co., 257 Pa. 118, 124, 101 Atl. 344 (1917); ...

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