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decided: August 16, 1977.


Original Jurisdiction in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation v. Estate of Jesse W. Crea, Deceased; John Crea, Administrator.


Richard S. Herskovitz, Assistant Attorney General, with him, Robert W. Cunliffe, Deputy Attorney General, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for plaintiff.

Philip D. Freedman, Caldwell, Clouser & Kearns, for defendant.

President Judge Bowman. Opinion by President Judge Bowman.

Author: Bowman

[ 92 Pa. Commw. Page 243]

This action in trespass by the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) against the estate of Jesse W. Crea is one to recover damages resulting from the collapse of a bridge allegedly caused by decedent negligently driving his automobile against the

[ 92 Pa. Commw. Page 244]

    bridge superstructure. The decedent died in the accident.

After trial on waiver of jury trial, a verdict was entered in favor of PennDOT in the amount of $46,500.00. Post trial motions for new trial and for judgment N.O.V. are presently before us for disposition after oral argument and submission of briefs.

Except for countervailing expert opinion testimony as to the condition of the bridge superstructure and the reason for its collapse, the record is that of witnesses for PennDOT and its exhibits. The accident out of which this litigation arose involved the collapse of a single span iron truss bridge, single lane, twelve feet in width, ninety-six feet in length, with an open grid roadway, spanning Wyalusing Creek along Legislative Route 316 in Susquehanna County. Originally erected in 1891, its maintenance became the responsibility of PennDOT in 1913. The approach to the bridge in the direction decedent was traveling is straight, narrowing in width as one approaches the bridge from a roadway width of approximately twenty-four feet to twelve feet eight inches at the bridge entrance. It is rather heavily used by local traffic. Decedent was known to have frequently used it.

For many hours prior to the accident, decedent and others were playing cards and consuming alcoholic beverages at a tavern approximately one mile from the bridge. Between 12:30 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. on the morning of April 9, 1973, decedent and a friend left the tavern, entered their respective automobiles and departed for their homes, traveling a common route to the bridge with the friend preceding decedent. The friend crossed the bridge some thirty to forty yards ahead of decedent who was observed through a rear vision mirror approaching the bridge, but the friend did not observe decedent's car enter

[ 92 Pa. Commw. Page 245]

    upon the bridge as he turned out of sight after crossing the bridge. The friend first became aware of the accident later that day. Within two hours after the friend had crossed the bridge, it was found collapsed and the Crea vehicle was found upside down in the creek, inside of which was the body of decedent. A deputy coroner declared him dead at 2:30 a.m., and a blood sample was taken which disclosed a .265 percent alcohol content. On the morning in question, the roadway of the approach to the bridge was in good condition and dry; the weather was cool but fair.

A PennDOT accident investigation expert, after having examined the decedent's vehicle and the scene of the accident, including skid marks identified as having been made by the decedent's vehicle, determined that the left front of the vehicle struck the left front end post of the bridge superstructure with an impact described on cross-examination as modest. A PennDOT engineer who qualified as an expert, after examination of the collapsed bridge superstructure, its substructure and having had a test made of the tensile strength of the end post, opined that the vehicle's impact against the end post caused the bridge superstructure to collapse. He was of the opinion that the directional thrust of the impact upon the end post caused it to become disengaged from its underpinning, thereby producing a twisting stress upon the components of the superstructure causing them to collapse by their weight into the creek.

This witness and another for PennDOT testified that the bridge met minimum strength requirements, was an acceptable structure according to standards in the bridge industry and was adequate for its intended purpose of carrying approximately 400 vehicles a day with a four-ton load limit. ...

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