No. 2799 October Term, 1978, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Division, Civil Section, at No. 2210 November Term, 1972
C. George Milner, Philadelphia, for appellants.
Earl T. Britt, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Brosky, Watkins and Montgomery, JJ.
[ 292 Pa. Super. Page 36]
This wrongful death and survival action was instituted by the Plaintiff-Appellant as the Administrator of the Estate of Stanislaus Ploszanski, deceased, and Guardian of the Estate of Christina Ploszanski, a minor. The deceased committed suicide in 1971 by shooting himself with a gun which was maintained at the premises of the Defendant-Appellee Girard Bank, the employer of the deceased. It was the theory of the Plaintiff that the Defendant was negligent in allowing the firearm to be in a place accessible to the decedent. The case was tried before a jury, but at the close of the Plaintiff's evidence, the trial judge granted a defense motion for a compulsory non-suit. Subsequently, a court en banc denied the Plaintiff's motion to remove the non-suit and this appeal followed.
In considering whether a non-suit was properly entered in any case, our Court must give the Plaintiff the benefit of all of the evidence, resolving all doubts in his favor, and will affirm only in a clear case where there is no doubt as to inferences to be drawn from the evidence. See West Penn Power Co. v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 236 Pa. Super. 413, 348 A.2d 144 (1975). With that mandate in mind, we will review evidence presented by the Plaintiff in this case.
The record shows that the decedent took his own life on December 17, 1971 when he deliberately shot himself with a gun owned by the Defendant Girard Bank. At the time, the decedent had been employed as a maintenance worker at a branch office of the Bank for approximately four years. The decedent was one of several maintenance employees of Defendant working under the supervision of one Stanley Pickens, the building superintendent. For approximately three years prior to the date of the decedent's death, Pickens had followed the practice of storing a loaded .38 calibre revolver in the unlocked locker in his basement office at the Bank. The revolver was used each evening by the Bank's
[ 292 Pa. Super. Page 37]
night security guards. On the date of his death, the decedent went into Pickens' office, removed the gun from the locker, and shot himself with it.
At the time of his death, Ploszanski was approximately 59 years old. He was a native of Poland who had apparently emigrated to the United States after World War II. During that war, he had apparently been a prisoner in a concentration camp, and had lost track of his wife and children. After his arrival in the United States, the decedent began living with a woman who assumed the name of Eleanor Ploszanski, although the two were never married. They had a child, and raised it, while living together until the day of the decedent's death.
The Plaintiff's case, in part, was based upon the claim that the decedent suffered psychological aberrations, including suicidal tendencies. This situation was blamed, in part, upon the decedent's discovery in the mid 1960's that his legal wife and children were still alive in Poland. The Plaintiff presented evidence that the deceased had often expressed a fear of Germans and a fear of being deported to Europe.
Plaintiff's case was presented chiefly on the testimony of two witnesses: Stanley Pickens, the Bank's supervisor, and Eleanor Ploszanksi, who had lived with the decedent for several years and was the mother of his child. Mr. Pickens testified that Stanley Ploszanski was a cooperative and reliable worker who had a good relationship with other employees. While Pickens testified that on occasion, while at work, the deceased expressed a fear of deportation, or of Germans, the witness said that he had no notion of what the decedent meant by such statements. Pickens testified that he never saw anything unusual in the decedent's behavior during the four years he supervised him, and also did not notice any conduct which indicated any intent on the part of the decedent to ...