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REILLY v. POACH (04/03/74)

decided: April 3, 1974.

REILLY, APPELLANT,
v.
POACH, ET AL.



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1967, No. 2516, in case of William G. Reilly v. Edward M. Poach, Sr. and Edward M. Poach, Jr.

COUNSEL

Saul Davis, for appellant.

Cosmos J. Reale, for appellees.

Wright, P. J., Watkins, Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, and Spaeth, JJ. (Spaulding, J., absent.) Opinion by Spaeth, J. Watkins, P. J., dissents.

Author: Spaeth

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 523]

This is an appeal from the refusal of a motion for new trial. The sole issue is whether it was an abuse of discretion for the trial judge to refuse to answer two questions posed by the jury during its deliberations.

The facts have been stipulated. Briefly, the case involves a collision between plaintiff-appellant's motor-cycle and defendant-appellee's car. Appellant alleged that the accident was caused because appellee suddenly stopped his car on the highway in order to pick up two pedestrians. Unable to go to the left because of an approaching car or to the right because of the pedestrians, and with insufficient time and distance to stop, appellant hit the rear of appellee's car. Appellee denied that he stopped his car suddenly, denied that it was on the highway, and alleged contributory negligence.

Following a complete charge, both with respect to liability and damages, the jury retired to deliberate at 2:50 p.m. At about 6:15 p.m., the jurors submitted to the judge a slip of paper on which were written two questions:

"1. Is there a law against stopping in the middle of the road?

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 524]

"2. Define emergency situation -- what is considered?"

The judge held a conference in chambers to get the reaction of both counsel. They made suggestions that were slightly different but hardly irreconcilable.*fn1 The judge, however, decided not to answer the questions: "We believe that both of these questions, while they may be somewhat unrelated, would require the Court in answering the same and [ sic ] to allude to the facts in this case. While there may be some recent law in this matter that if the Court is asked by the Jury to re-explain matters of law, I do not believe that those decisions give the Court the right to piecemeal and give the Jury further instructions on matters of fact." The judge told the jury to "find the facts and apply the facts to the law as given by the Court," and that he would not answer "these detached questions." Both counsel excepted to the court's action. At 8:40 p.m. the jury returned a verdict for appellee.

The general rule on jurors' questions appears in Worthington v. Oberhuber, 419 Pa. 561, 563, 215 A.2d 621 (1966): "There may be situations in which a trial judge may decline to answer questions put by the jury, but where a jury returns on its own motion indicating confusion, the court has the duty to give such additional instructions on the law as the court may think necessary to ...


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