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decided: January 19, 1979.


No. 1930 October Term, 1977, Appeal from Order dated June 17, 1977 Denying Defendant's Exceptions to the Verdict of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Trial Div., Law, Dated May 3, 1977 as of April Term, 1972, No. 3351, in Trespass.


Douglas P. Coopersmith, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Lawrence Flick, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Price, Hester and Hoffman, JJ. Price, J., files a dissenting statement.

Author: Hoffman

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 13]

Appellant contends that the lower court erred in (1) qualifying a behavior therapist as an expert on causation, (2) finding that the therapist's testimony was sufficient to establish causation, and (3) admitting certain bills of expenses into evidence and, as a result, refusing to grant a new trial on damages because the verdict was excessive. We find that $330 of expenses were improperly admitted and, accordingly, direct that the judgment in favor of appellee be reduced by that amount. In all other respects, we affirm the order of the lower court.

On May 22, 1970, at approximately 8:00 a. m., the automobile driven by appellant Glover collided with the automobile in which appellee Reeda Kravinsky was a passenger. On April 19, 1972, Reeda Kravinsky filed a complaint in trespass alleging that appellant's negligent operation of his car caused the collision and that as a result, she suffered certain physical injuries, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of earnings, acute anxiety, and "aggravation of a pre-existing emotional disorder with development of severe phobia."*fn1 On March 31, 1977, the lower court, in a non-jury trial, heard testimony, initially on damages and then on liability.

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 14]

After appellant waived objection to Dr. Donald Stoltz's qualifications as a treating osteopathic physician, Dr. Stoltz testified that, on May 22, 1970, he examined Reeda Kravinsky and diagnosed her condition as:

"A. . . . Contusion of the right knee and leg. Contusion of the right arm and elbow with marked discoloration and swelling.

"Acute cervical sprain with cervical and thoracic myositis and muscular spasm. Acute low back sprain with marked lumbar myalgia. Post-traumatic headaches and vertigo. Acute anxiety."

Dr. Stolz sent Mrs. Kravinsky to a Dr. Anthony Borden for x-ray studies of her cervical spine, dorsal spine, right shoulder and arm. On the basis of what the Kravinskys told him about the collision, his physical examination of Mrs. Kravinsky, and Dr. Borden's report on her x-rays, Dr. Stoltz prescribed a course of treatment for Mrs. Kravinsky of physical therapy -- specifically, diathermy, ultrasound, and manipulation -- and drug therapy -- analgesics, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory enzymes, sedatives and tranquilizers for Mrs. Kravinsky's "anxiety, as far as the fear that she had . . .;" Dr. Stoltz did not describe the anxiety in more detail or identify the object of her fear. He further testified that, based on his physical examinations of Mr. and Mrs. Kravinsky and what they told him about the collision, he "would say that the injuries that they suffered from were sustained in an automobile accident on the date of the incident."

Dr. Stoltz treated Mrs. Kravinsky in his office on 34 occasions, the last visit occurring on September 8, 1970; he charged her $15 for the initial visit and $6 for each visit thereafter, for a total bill of $213. Over appellant's objection, Dr. Stoltz identified Dr. Borden's $90 medical bill for the x-ray studies performed on Mrs. Kravinsky at his request; Dr. Borden did not testify. The court admitted into evidence both Dr. Stoltz's bill and, over appellant's objection, Dr. Borden's bill.

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 15]

Over appellant's objection, the lower court ruled that the second witness, Dr. L. Michael Ascher, a behavior therapist,*fn2 was qualified*fn3 to testify as an expert psychologist. He testified that he treated Mrs. Kravinsky, unsuccessfully, in 10 sessions from November 25, 1975 to February 24, 1976, using a desensitization technique.*fn4 Each session cost $50, for a total of $500. During his initial interview with Mrs. Kravinsky on November 25, 1975, Dr. Ascher obtained her general history but focused on her driving behavior and driving-related incidents. From this history, he learned that in March 1970, the brakes in her car failed while she was driving. This experience upset her, and, although she continued to drive in an efficient manner, she sought the assistance of a psychologist shortly thereafter. Immediately after the collision on May 22, 1970, she did not drive at all for some period of time. When Dr. Ascher saw her in November 1975, Mrs. Kravinsky was driving occasionally but always "at a very slow speed . . . ten to fifteen miles per hours because anxiety in driving elicited this in her and she would have to stop frequently to allow the anxiety to dissipate . . . ." On the basis of this history, Dr. Ascher diagnosed that Mrs. Kravinsky suffered from driving phobia. He defined a phobic reaction as "a set of anatomic responses and a set of anxieties, made to a stimulus which is

[ 263 Pa. Super. Page 16]

    not a clear danger." Specifically, he found that Mrs. Kravinsky "had an anxiety response when she thought about driving, when she looked at the car. Even when she sat in the car as a passenger she had an anxiety response. . . . a phobic response."

Based upon the above history and his observation of Mrs. Kravinsky, Dr. Ascher formed the following opinion as to the cause of her driving phobia:

"A. I felt that a significant cause was the accident of May [22], 1970."

On cross-examination, Dr. Ascher amplified:

"Q. If there were such a mishap between May 22, 1970, and the time you saw Mrs. Kravinsky, in your expert opinion do you think that would have some bearing on her anxieties?

"A. It was my opinion that her behavioral difficulty obviously began on May 22, as a ...

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