which the jury resolved in the Eagles' favor. The unusual factual background of this case may be summarized as follows.
On November 2, 1969, Chuy suffered a severe injury to his left shoulder while executing a downfield block in a game against the New York Giants. The full extent of Chuy's injury was not diagnosed, however, until weeks later, when it was discovered that he had developed an acute pulmonary embolism. After hospitalization and treatment the embolus was dissolved, but Chuy's career in football had been brought to an end.
Chuy's contractual claim is set against the peculiar practice, in effect in the National Football League at the time of the operative events of this case, whereby players would sign on the same day two or more separate NFL Standard Player Contract forms for two or more successive years. Thus, on June 16, 1969, Chuy signed three separate documents bearing respectively the dates of the 1969, 1970, and 1971 seasons. Each contract provided for $30,000 compensation and guaranteed him full salary for the contract term in case of a disabling football related injury. The Eagles maintain that this arrangement was for three separate one-year contracts conditioned upon Chuy's making the team each year. Chuy on the other hand contends that his dealings with the Eagles created a three-year contract and that, because the Eagles had not paid him for the 1970 and 1971 seasons, they owe him $60,000. Finding ambiguity in the documents taken together, we admitted parol evidence pertaining to the negotiations between the parties. The jury believed Chuy's version of the facts and awarded him the sought-for $60,000, less the sum of $15,000 which the Eagles had loaned to him and which he had not repaid.
The bizarre aspect of the case lies in the facts underlying Chuy's claim for intentional infliction of mental distress. After Chuy had recovered from the acute phase of his injury and had been examined by Eagles' physicians to determine his ability to play again, he returned to his home in Los Angeles, California. Chuy's condition was a matter of interest to Philadelphia sports fans and sports writers, particularly because he had been the subject of a prominent trade the previous year under the terms of which he had been brought to the Eagles and Bob Brown, an All-American All-Pro Lineman, had been sent to the Los Angeles Rams. Accordingly, Hugh Brown, a Philadelphia Bulletin sports writer, interviewed Eagles General Manager Palmer "Pete" Retzlaff and Eagles Team physician Dr. James Nixon on the matter. What resulted was a story in the Bulletin and, via the wire services in newspapers all over America, reporting that Dr. Nixon had stated that Chuy was suffering from a rare blood disease known as polycythemia vera which would prevent him from playing professional football again.
Chuy read the article and became panic stricken. He consulted his personal physician, Dr. John Perry, also team physician for the Los Angeles Rams. Dr. Perry explained the serious nature of polycythemia vera, and though he counseled Chuy that in his opinion he was not suffering from the disease and suggested tests to rule it out conclusively. Chuy was inconsolable. Chuy testified to experiencing thereafter a lengthy period of extreme emotional anguish and torment during which he anticipated death.
It was conceded by the Eagles at trial that Chuy did not have and indeed never had polycythemia vera and that Dr. Nixon knew that he did not have it. This concession was consistent with the Eagles' defense because Dr. Nixon testified that he had never told Mr. Brown that Chuy had polycythemia vera. However, the jury credited Mr. Brown's testimony that Dr. Nixon made the statement. The jury also found, in answer to a special interrogatory, that the Eagles had actual control or the right to control the substance of Dr. Nixon's statements to the press about the conditions of Eagles players. Finding that the record facts established that Chuy was a public figure and that the constitutional privilege defense of New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686, 84 S. Ct. 710 (1964), and its progeny should be accorded even to a non-media defendant such as the Eagles, we applied a "clear and convincing" standard in our instructions and special interrogatories. Nonetheless, the jury answered most of the interrogatories favorably to Chuy. In accordance therewith a verdict was rendered for Chuy against the Eagles3a for intentional infliction of mental distress, the jury awarding Chuy $10,000 as compensatory damages and $60,590.96 as punitive damages. Chuy had also sued for defamation. Because the jury found that Dr. Nixon's statements were not understood by Hugh Brown (the recipient) as defamatory, a requirement of Pennsylvania law, we molded a verdict for the Eagles on the defamation claim.
The Eagles have asserted a variety of grounds in support of their post-trial motions. With respect to the contract claim, as we have indicated above, they mainly contend that the documents in question should have been construed as three one-year contracts as a matter of law; that we should not have permitted introduction of parol evidence; and that in any event there was no evidence to support the verdict. With respect to the mental distress claim, defendant mainly argues that there was no evidence of a master-servant relationship and that the Eagles cannot therefore be held vicariously liable for Dr. Nixon's statements to the press. As will appear from the discussion below, Chuy's evidence on both these points was thin, but it was enough to permit the case to go to the jury and to support its verdict.
The Eagles also urge that the presence in the jury room of a book entitled What You Need to Know For Jury Duty, by Godfrey Lehman, prejudiced their case, and that our instruction to the jury not to make any use of the book in response to the jury's inquiry whether it could be used was prejudicial to defendants because it took place in the absence of counsel. Moreover, the Eagles assert that the way in which the special interrogatories to the jury were framed prejudiced their case because the jury could ascertain from their structure which answers were the "correct" ones and because the jury was misled into thinking that Chuy would get no contract damages, thus encouraging the jury to increase the punitive damage award for the infliction of mental distress. The Eagles have also raised a question as to the size and overall propriety of the punitive damage award. The plaintiff, in his motion for a new trial on the defamation claim, argues that we erred in finding that Chuy was a public figure and in instructing the jury in accordance with the strict standard of New York Times v. Sullivan, under which the plaintiff was obliged to prove "malice" in order to recover.
While the parties have asserted other grounds in their moving papers and briefs, the foregoing are the only points requiring discussion. The trial consumed 10 days and was interrupted by numerous colloquies; hence, the basis for most of our challenged rulings is already amply spread upon the record. For the reasons which follow, defendant's post-trial motions (and plaintiff's as well) are without merit. An order denying them has previously been filed and this opinion explicates our reasoning.
A. The Contract Claim
In order to present fully the questions which defendant has raised in its motion for judgment n.o.v. or a new trial on plaintiff's contract claim, it will be necessary to examine the three contract forms which defendant and plaintiff signed, the difficulties of interpretation arising from their apparently overlapping application, and the procedures followed at trial regarding proof by parol evidence.
Chuy, of course, had to demonstrate at trial that the three separate "Standard Player Contract" forms established an overall contractual arrangement by which the Eagles Football Club was obligated to him for his salary over three football seasons, and that, by virtue of the injury clause (paragraph 14), upon the occurrence of a disabling injury in the course of his football activities in 1969 he became entitled to receive his salary for the 1970 and 1971 seasons.
We note preliminarily our threshold conclusion that the correct interpretation of the separate forms in this case necessarily depended upon a consideration of all three forms together, for despite the use of separate forms it is the combination which here embodies the rights and duties of the Eagles Football Club and Don Chuy vis a vis each other over three years.
See, e.g., International Mill Co. v. Hachmeister, Inc., 380 Pa. 407, 110 A.2d 186, 191 (1955); Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co. v. Ziegler, 151 F.2d 784, 795 (3d Cir. 1946) (interpreting Pennsylvania law); Stern and Co. v. State Loan and Finance Corp., 238 F. Supp. 901, 911 (D.Dela. 1965) (interpreting Pennsylvania law). This view is also in accord with the law of other jurisdictions than Pennsylvania. See Lowell v. Twin Disc, Inc., 527 F.2d 767, 769-70 (2d Cir. 1975); St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. v. Tennefos Construction Co., 396 F.2d 623, 628-29 (8th Cir. 1968). Lawrence v. United States, 378 F.2d 452, 461 (5th Cir. 1967); Phoenix Title and Trust Co. v. Stewart, 337 F.2d 978, 983 (9th Cir. 1964), cert. denied, 380 U.S. 979, 14 L. Ed. 2d 273, 85 S. Ct. 1335 (1965); Century Refining Co. v. Hall, 316 F.2d 15, 21 (10th Cir. 1963).
The Eagles have argued that the documents are clear on their face in creating three separate one-year agreements, with the result that, since Chuy did not make the team in 1970 they are not obligated to him. The problem with that contention and the need for parol evidence to resolve the ambiguity created by the three documents can be demonstrated by referring to the third of the three documents, in which the year "1971" is typed into the first paragraph. The pertinent language is as follows:
the term of the contract shall be from the date of execution hereof [June 16, 1969] until the first day of May following the close of the football season commencing in the calendar year 1971 . . . .