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SOMMERS ET AL. v. HESSLER (04/03/74)

decided: April 3, 1974.


Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, No. 875 of 1968, in case of Charles Sommers, Jr., a minor, by Charles Sommers and Sonya Sommers, his parents and natural guardians, and Charles Sommers and Sonya Sommers, in their own right, v. E. C. Hessler, Sr., individually and trading and doing business as E. C. Hessler, Sr. School Bus Company v. Richard Kasparek, Additional Defendant v. Donald Collins, William Main, Harold Curtis, Gerald Main, Charles Rider and Walter Arkwright, Additional Defendants.


Gretchen Sohn Reed, with her John D. McBride, Oran W. Panner, and Panner, Holland and Autenreith, for appellants.

Robert C. Reed, Andrew J. Banyas, III, Theodore M. Tracy, and George A. Baldwin, Jr., with them A. G. Helbling, for appellees.

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

Author: Hoffman

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 43]

In this appeal, we must determine the duty of a school bus company with respect to a minor passenger who is injured by the tortious acts of other passengers.

In the original action, the plaintiff-appellees sued the owner of the bus company for negligently permitting a "spit ball" battle to be waged by minor passengers on its bus, which resulted in the accidental injury to the right eye of the minor plaintiff, which ultimately caused the loss of sight in that eye. The defendant thereafter joined Richard Kasparek, one of the participants in the fight, as additional defendant. Kasparek in turn joined five other boys and the bus driver as additional defendants. After a trial which lasted two weeks before the Honorable H. Beryl Klein of the Common Pleas Court of Beaver County, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs against the defendant Hessler and the bus driver in the amount of $50,000 for the minor and $3,000 to the parents. The jury further found in favor of the student additional defendants. Post-trial motions were argued and denied, and this appeal followed.

The appellants challenge various aspects of the trial. First, they argue that the trial court erroneously charged the jury on the duty owed by a contractual carrier to passengers riding on its vehicle. While the

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 44]

    cases in this Commonwealth on the subject are few, they clearly hold a carrier to the highest degree of care, irrespective of whether it is a common or a contractual carrier. In Vogel v. Stupi, 357 Pa. 253, 53 A.2d 542 (1947), a six-year old boy was alighting from a school bus when he was struck by an automobile. Minor plaintiff by his parents sued both the driver of the automobile and the bus company. A jury found against both defendants. The bus company alone appealed the jury's verdict. After reviewing the duty of a common carrier to a passenger, our Supreme Court affirmed, saying: "The company by contract accepted a grave responsibility to carry children to and from school, and in discharge of this duty it was bound to exercise the highest practical degree of care." 357 Pa. at 259. See also, Turner v. Yourga, 15 Pa. D. & C. 2d 762 (1958). There was, thus, no error in the charge to the jury on the degree of care owed by the bus company to the minor plaintiff.

The remaining contentions involve the disposition of the jury with regard to the student additional defendants. Appellants argue that the court erred in refusing to charge the jury that the acts of the additional defendants constituted assault and battery. The facts of the case disclose that the incident was not dissimilar from the usual childhood "pranks". The testimony revealed that outside the bus two of the boys, additional defendants herein, handed out rubber bands to a number of boys on the bus. The battle involved the entire rear of the bus with "paper wads" being projected through the air across the aisles for some twenty minutes with no student as a particular target. There was evidence that when the bus driver boarded the bus he noticed a "spit ball" on the front panel. Even though there was testimony that some of the wads hit up front in the vicinity of the driver, and that the driver himself may have been struck by one

[ 227 Pa. Super. Page 45]

    of these missiles, the driver denied knowledge of the actual fight. He said that his attention was diverted to traffic, but that even with such knowledge, he would not have done ...

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