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CRAIG CANTWELL v. ALLEGHENY COUNTY (11/20/84)

decided: November 20, 1984.

CRAIG CANTWELL, APPELLEE,
v.
ALLEGHENY COUNTY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION AND A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT, V. WILKINSBURG BOROUGH, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, APPELLANT, AND SWISSVALE BOROUGH, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION AND RONALD E. LEES



No. 13 W.D. Appeal Docket 1984, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania No. 155 Pittsburgh, 1981 and No. 368 Pittsburgh, 1982 entered August 26, 1983 reversing the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Civil Division No. G.D. 77-17787, Pa. Super. , Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ.

Author: Larsen

[ 506 Pa. Page 37]

OPINION OF THE COURT

The issue in this negligence case concerns the scope of Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A (1965). More specifically, we must decide whether county crime labs, which undertake to perform scientific tests at the request of the police, should recognize that the results of those tests are necessary for the protection of criminal suspects who may be affected by them, such that the labs' failure to use due care in performing those tests will render the labs liable in tort to injured criminal suspects.

The complaint in this case sets forth the following relevant facts:*fn1 A series of rapes, which the police and district attorney believed had been committed by the same person, occurred in the Boroughs of Wilkinsburg and Swissvale from November, 1975 through April, 1976. After four of these rapes, the police from the respective boroughs submitted clothing from the victims to the Allegheny County Crime Lab for testing. In the first case, upon learning that the Crime Lab had found semen on a pair of slacks, the Wilkinsburg police requested that the Crime Lab test the semen to determine the blood group of the assailant. The Crime Lab refused to do so, however, explaining that unless the police had a suspect there was no point in doing the test. In the second case, the Crime Lab found semen on the victim's clothing but did not determine the blood group of the assailant. These items of clothing were eventually returned to the victim. In the third case, the Crime Lab erroneously determined that there was no semen on any of the items submitted. Finally, in the fourth case, a cervical smear was submitted to the Crime Lab along with the victim's clothing. Although the cervical smear tested positive

[ 506 Pa. Page 38]

    for the presence of sperm, the specimen was not blood-typed, nor was the victim's clothing examined.

The complaint further alleges that on April 17, 1976, appellee Craig Cantwell was arrested and charged with eight rapes, including the four rapes outlined above. The Wilkinsburg police then called the Crime Lab to say that they had a suspect and requested that the semen on the slacks of the first victim be blood-typed. The Crime Lab again refused, this time on the grounds that the passage of so much time precluded the performance of an accurate test. In August, this request was renewed and again refused.

According to the complaint, appellee's criminal trial commenced on September 10, 1976. During the course of the trial, an employee of the Crime Lab testified that it was still possible to do blood-typing on the semen specimens still in the possession of the police. As a result of this testimony, blood-typing was finally performed. In the first and fourth rapes, the Crime Lab concluded that appellee could not have been the assailant because the assailant's blood group in both cases was B, while appellee's blood group is A. In the third rape, the clothing from the victim was retested and the Crime Lab determined that sperm were, in fact, present. This clothing was then also blood-typed and the Crime Lab again concluded that appellee could not have been the assailant because the assailant's blood group was B. These tests were then repeated and the results confirmed by the coroner's office.

According to appellee's complaint, in view of these tests, the district attorney's office acknowledged that appellee could not have been the assailant in three of the eight rapes. On September 21, 1976, the district attorney moved to dismiss all of the charges against appellee, and the charges were, in fact, dismissed. Because appellee had never been able to post bail, which had been set at $105,000, he had remained incarcerated from April 17, 1976, the date of his arrest, until September 21, 1976.

[ 506 Pa. Page 39]

In his complaint, appellee finally alleged that his "wrongful and mistaken incarceration, indictment and trial, and the resulting injuries and damages" were caused by the negligence of Allegheny County in that its Crime Lab failed to test all clothing and hospital specimens submitted to it for blood-typing, both initially and after appellee's arrest; incorrectly informed the police that it was too late to perform blood-typing; and failed to perform properly those tests which it undertook to perform.

On December 15, 1977, appellee filed a complaint sounding in negligence.*fn2 The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County granted the motions of appellants Allegheny County and the Borough of Wilkinsburg for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the complaints against them, on the grounds that Allegheny County owed no duty to appellee, and that Wilkinsburg owed no duty to either appellee or Allegheny County.*fn3 On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, holding that both the original complaint and the third-party complaint stated causes of action. Cantwell v. Allegheny County, 319 Pa. Super. 255, 466 A.2d 145 (1983). We granted allocatur and we now reverse.

In this appeal, appellee asserts that his complaint does, in fact, state a cause of action, and relies upon Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A (1965), entitled Liability to Third Person for ...


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