Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

PEARSALL v. EMHART INDUS.

December 7, 1984

Linda PEARSALL, Admx., et al.,
v.
EMHART INDUSTRIES, INC., et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KATZ

 KATZ, District Judge.

 Post-trial motions before this Court contest a judgment of $2,926,875 based on a jury verdict finding defendants Emhart Industries and Notifier Company liable to plaintiff Linda Pearsall for $2,451,938 (to which the Court added delay damages in the amount of $474,937) as a result of a fire in her home that killed her husband and two children. The jury found that the heat and smoke detectors manufactured by the defendants' predecessors in interest were defective and negligently manufactured, and that the defects and negligence were substantial factors in causing the deaths of plaintiff's family members. *fn1"

 I find that the trial record amply supports plaintiff's claims that these badly designed and dangerous alarms did not work when there was a fire. Plaintiff provided sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that defendants' predecessor in interest manufactured defective products, did so negligently and that the defects and negligence were substantial factors in causing the deaths of the plaintiff's husband and children.

 Defendants argue that, with regard to the instruction as to damages for the wrongful death of plaintiff's two children, the court committed two errors. First it is alleged that the court charged the jury that it could award monetary damages for the expected pecuniary value of the children's services and emotional support beyond the age of majority. Secondly, defendants argue that parents may not be awarded damages for the loss of emotional support of their children. Under Pennsylvania law, absent a strong factual presentation to indicate continued support beyond the age of majority, parents may recover in an action for the wrongful death of a minor child compensation for services and support only up until the age of majority. See Sinn v. Burd, 486 Pa. 146, 151-52 n. 3, 404 A.2d 672 n. 3 (1979); Gaydos v. Domabyl, 301 Pa. 523, 152 A. 549 (1930). The Court's charge in this case was that only support prior to the age of majority was compensable in a wrongful death action. *fn2" The instruction on damages for services and emotional support immediately followed the court's instruction that the plaintiff could be awarded sums of money that the two children would have contributed to her support up until the time of their majority.

 In addition, the Court's instruction that the plaintiff could be awarded compensation for "the monetary value of the emotional support that she lost" was not in error. See Thomas v. Conemaugh Black Lick Railroad, 133 F. Supp. 533, 543 (W.D.Pa.1955) aff'd 234 F.2d 429 (3d Cir.1956) (care, training, advice, guidance); Gaydos v. Domabyl, 301 Pa. 523, 530, 152 A. 549, 552 (1930) (superintendence, attention, care, education).

 Defendants next claim that the jury award on the children's survival action should be overturned due to the likelihood that the jury was confused by the testimony of the plaintiff's economist, Dr. Jerome Staller. At one point in his testimony, Dr. Staller testified that the two children, Paula and Laurie Pearsall, would be expected to earn $567,664 and $591,209 respectively if they finished high school but did not go on to college. Later, on cross examination, Dr. Staller "conceded" that fringe benefits should not have been included in the above figures. The jury awarded $597,664 and $621,209 in the survival action -- exactly $30,000 higher for each child than Dr. Staller's estimate. Defendant argues that the jury must have accepted Dr. Staller's estimates without making any deletion for the incorrectly included fringe benefits and that this decision was based upon confusion. The law, however, is well established that courts should not overturn jury verdicts absent exigent circumstances such as a case of manifest and extreme abuse of the jury's function. See Bruce Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. v. Universal C.I.T. Credit Corp., 325 F.2d 2, 21-22 (3d Cir.1963). Moreover a court will not inquire into the purely internal workings of the jury's decisional processes on the mere suspicion of confusion. See Domeracki v. Humble Oil & Refining Co., 443 F.2d 1245, 1247 (3d Cir.1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 883, 92 S. Ct. 212, 30 L. Ed. 2d 165 (1971); Beron v. Kramer-Trenton, 402 F. Supp. 1268, 1271 n. 5 (E.D.Pa.1975), aff'd, 538 F.2d 318 (3d Cir.1976). Since the jury was bound neither by Dr. Staller's estimate nor his concessions, I will not upset the jury's award in this case.

 Nor do I deem the jury's overall verdict excessive. An award of damages in a wrongful death action will be set aside only if "clearly beyond reason" or if it is the "result of a misconception of the law, or of prejudice, partiality, or sympathy." Jenkins v. Pennsylvania Railroad Co., 220 Pa.Super. 455, 289 A.2d 166 (1972). The losses which were proved in this case fully justify the amount of the verdict.

 Defendants argue that plaintiff's claim for emotional distress should not have been submitted to the jury since the plaintiff did not witness the deaths of her husband and children from the fire. In recent years Pennsylvania has expanded the right of a bystander who "witnesses" a traumatic event to recover for emotional distress. In Sinn v. Burd, 486 Pa. 146, 404 A.2d 672 (1979) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a mother who saw her own child struck and killed by a negligently operated vehicle could recover. The Court's decision placed much emphasis on its conclusion that the injuries to the bystander were foreseeable. The Supreme Court has applied a three factor test to determine whether injuries to a bystander from witnessing a wrongful death are foreseeable:

 
(1) Whether plaintiff was located near the scene of the accident as contrasted with one who was a distance away from it. (2) Whether the shock resulted from a direct emotional impact upon plaintiff from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident, as contrasted with learning of the accident from others after its occurrence. (3) Whether plaintiff and the victim were closely related, as contrasted with an absence of any relationship or the presence of only a distant relationship.

 In Yandrich v. Radic, 495 Pa. 243, 433 A.2d 459 (1981) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue it had expressly left open in Sinn -- whether a parent who was neither a witness to the accident nor in the immediate vicinity thereof, but arrived at the scene after his son had already been taken to the hospital could maintain an action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Applying the foreseeability standards enunciated in Sinn the Court found that the father could not bring such an action. The Court found that the plaintiff was not located near the scene of the accident and that the shock to the plaintiff did not result from the sensory and contemporaneous observance of the accident. 495 Pa. at 247, 433 A.2d at 463.

 I find that the facts of the instant case support a claim by Mrs. Pearsall for infliction of emotional distress. Upon arriving home, Mrs. Pearsall witnessed the fire-fighters bringing the blaze under control. She testified that she stood near the bodies of her husband and children at the scene of the fire. She arrived at the hospital shortly before the ambulance arrived and witnessed the bodies of her husband and daughter being carried off the ambulance. She testified that she couldn't pick up her daughter because ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.