Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of York County, Aug. T., 1966, No. 664, in case of David M. Stoner et ux. v. Metropolitan Edison Company.
John S. McConaghy, with him Samuel B. Russell, Samuel S. Laucks, Jr., and Ryan, Russell & McConaghy, and Laucks & Monroe, for appellant.
Mark E. Garber, with him George M. Houck, and Garber, Garber & Fowler, for appellees.
Bell, C. J., Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. Mr. Justice Jones took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
In 1966, the Metropolitan Edison Company, a public utility, condemned a right-of-way for the installation of a 500 k.v. electric transmission line across a dairy farm owned by the appellees, David M. Stoner and Irene E. Stoner, his wife, and located in Carroll Township, York County. A Board of Viewers appointed on the Stoners' petition awarded damages in the amount of $8,000. The Stoners' appeal to the Common Pleas Court of York County resulted in a jury verdict of $26,000. The condemnor's new trial motion was denied, and following entry of judgment in favor of the Stoners, the condemnor brought this appeal.
The Eminent Domain Code (hereinafter the "Code"), Act of June 22, 1964, Spec. Sess., P. L. 84, §§ 601, 602, 26 P.S. §§ 1-601, 1-602, entitles a condemnee to "just compensation for the taking, injury or destruction" of his condemned property and defines "just compensation" as "the difference between the fair market value of the condemnee's entire property interest immediately before the condemnation and as unaffected thereby and the fair market value of his property interest remaining immediately after such condemnation and as affected thereby." See Dague v. Commonwealth, 418 Pa. 340, 211 A.2d 527 (1965). Section 603 of the Code, 26 P.S. § 1-603, defines "fair market value" as the price which willing and informed parties would
agree upon, taking into consideration not only the "present use of the property and its value for such use" but also the "highest and best reasonably available use of the property and its value for such use." See Mazur v. Commonwealth, 390 Pa. 148, 134 A.2d 669 (1957) and Gilleland v. New York State Natural Gas Corporation, 399 Pa. 181, 159 A.2d 673 (1960). It is appellant's principal contention that the verdict in this case was excessive and against the weight of the evidence, when considered in light of this statutory measure of damages.
Initially, the condemnor points to the wide disparity between the Board of Viewers' award and the jury's verdict as an indication that the verdict was excessive. This Court has frequently held that the award of the viewers is an important circumstance to be considered when it is contended that a jury verdict is excessive, but the viewers' award is not the controlling factor. Boring v. Metropolitan Edison Company, 435 Pa. 513, 257 A.2d 565 (1969); Chiorazzi v. Commonwealth, 411 Pa. 397, 192 A.2d 400 (1963); and Baker v. Commonwealth, 401 Pa. 512, 165 A.2d 243 (1960). Accordingly, we have frequently upheld jury verdicts considerably in excess of the viewers' award. See Snyder v. Commonwealth, 412 Pa. 15, 192 A.2d 650 (1963); Brown & Vaughn Development Co. v. Commonwealth, 393 Pa. 589, 143 A.2d 815 (1958); and Fisher v. Allegheny County, 324 Pa. 471, 188 Atl. 196 (1936).
Our holdings in this regard are grounded upon the nature of the jury trial in a condemnation action. The jury trial provided by Section 515 of the Code (26 P.S. § 1-515) is a de novo proceeding. Manganese Steel Forge Co. v. Commonwealth, 421 Pa. 67, 218 A.2d 307 (1966). Under § 703(3) of the Code the report of the viewers and the amount of their award are not admissible in evidence ...