Appeals from order of Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, July T., 1972, No. 2156, in case of Ruth M. Weber and C. Kenneth Weber, her husband v. Mary Katherine Lynch v. Newton M. Weir.
Ralph A. Davies and John C. Carlin, Jr., with them Thomson, Rhodes & Grigsby, and Mercer, Mercer, Carlin & Scully, for appellants.
James M. Keller, for appellees.
Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Jacobs, J. Dissenting Opinion by Cercone, J. Dissenting Opinion by Price, J. Van der Voort, J., joins in this dissenting opinion.
[ 237 Pa. Super. Page 50]
This consolidated appeal questions the propriety of Rule 303J, a local rule of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The rule, which relates to appeals from compulsory arbitration,*fn1 provides that
"[e]xcept by allowance of the court for good cause shown, no witness, other than an after discovered witness, may be called by a party at any subsequent trial who was not called as a witness by that party at the arbitration hearing."*fn2
The appellees, plaintiffs below, were not satisfied with an arbitration award in their favor and appealed to the common pleas court. At the trial the plaintiffs were precluded from introducing the testimony of a physician who had not testified at the arbitration hearing. The court en banc, considering post-trial motions, then reversed the decision of the trial judge and granted a new trial, holding that Rule 303J not only unconstitutionally infringed the right to trial by jury but also violated due process rights. The defendants below bring this appeal from the order granting a new trial.
[ 237 Pa. Super. Page 51]
Our Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the compulsory arbitration statute in Smith Case, 381 Pa. 223, 112 A.2d 625 (1955). The Court examined the purpose of the arbitration system and noted its "extreme importance" and obvious merits. "[I]t effects a decided innovation in procedure for the adjudication of the class of minor claims to which it relates. It has many obvious advantages. It is clearly designed to meet the situation which prevails in some communities of jury lists being clogged to a point where trial can be had only after long periods of delay, -- a condition resulting largely from the modern influx of negligence cases arising from automobile accidents in a great number of which no serious personal injuries are involved. Removing the smaller claims from the lists not only paves the way for the speedier trial of actions involving larger amounts, but, what is of equal or perhaps even greater importance, makes it possible for the immediate disposition of the smaller claims themselves, thus satisfying the need for prompt relief in such cases. By the same token, and working to the same end, the use of the Act will free courts for the speedier performance of other judicial functions. Moreover, there will be a saving to claimants of both time and expense by reason of greater flexibility in fixing the exact day and hour for hearings before the arbitrators as compared with the more cumbersome and less adaptable arrangements of court calendars. . . . It would seem clear, therefore, that the system of arbitration set up by this statute offers encouraging prospects for the speedier administration of justice in the Commonwealth." Id. at 229-30, 112 A.2d at 628-29.
The Court in Smith Case, supra, in upholding the Arbitration Act, was specifically confronted with the challenge that the statute violated the right to trial by jury; but rejected the challenge as without merit. The Court held that a constitutional violation would arise "only where the statute closes the courts to litigants and
[ 237 Pa. Super. Page 52]
makes the decision of the arbitrators the final determination of the rights of the parties; therefore there is no denial of the right to trial by jury if the statute preserves that right to each of the parties by the allowance of an appeal from the decision ...