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DORIS LYLES v. CITY PHILADELPHIA ET AL. (04/08/85)

decided: April 8, 1985.

DORIS LYLES, APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in case of Doris Lyles v. City of Philadelphia, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, and Essie L. Francis, Additional Defendant, No. 3017 February Term, 1981.

COUNSEL

Stephen M. Feldman, for appellant.

Michael B. Tolcott, Assistant City Solicitor, with him, Barbara W. Mather, City Solicitor, Barbara R. Axelrod, Deputy City Solicitor, Ralph J. Luongo, Assistant City Solicitor, for appellee, City of Philadelphia and Amici Curiae: School District of Philadelphia and Cities of Pittsburgh, Reading, Allentown and Erie.

Gary B. Gilman, Deputy Attorney General, with him, LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for appellee, Department of Transportation.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges Rogers, Williams, Jr., Craig, MacPhail, Doyle and Barry. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr. Judge Barry concurs in the result only. Judge Williams, Jr., did not participate in the decision in this case.

Author: Crumlish

[ 88 Pa. Commw. Page 511]

Before us is the appeal of Doris Lyles. A Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court order granted the Commonwealth's motion to limit a personal injury verdict to $250,000 and denied her motion for delay damages. We affirm the order with respect to the Commonwealth's motion and we reverse as to the latter motion and remand this case to the trial court for disposition consistent with this opinion.

Lyles suffered permanent quadriplegic injuries in a March 11, 1979 automobile accident on the Schuylkill Expressway which she alleged was caused by the Commonwealth's negligent highway design.*fn1 A jury found against the Commonwealth and awarded her $750,000.*fn2 The Commonwealth filed a motion seeking to mold this award to the $250,000 liability limitation imposed by Section 2 of the Sovereign Immunity Act (Act 152),*fn3 whereupon Lyles moved for delay damages of $96,875 as provided in Pa. R.C.P. No. 238. The trial court granted the Commonwealth's motion and denied Lyles' motion for delay damages.

[ 88 Pa. Commw. Page 512]

    payment by employers, or employers and employes jointly, of reasonable [workmen's compensation benefits]; but in no other cases shall the General Assembly limit the amount to be recovered for injuries resulting in death, or for injuries to persons or property . . . ." Lyles urges that this language prohibits the legislature from limiting the amount of recoveries against the Commonwealth. In response, the Commonwealth asserts that the drafters of this section, and of later amendments thereto,*fn4 never intended it to apply to suits against the Sovereign.

A court is to interpret constitutional language in its popular, ordinary, and natural meaning, taking into consideration the circumstances surrounding its formation and the likely construction placed upon it by the people who voted for it. Behrend v. Bell Telephone Co., 257 Pa. Superior Ct. 35, 390 A.2d 233 (1978). In guiding us, our Supreme Court has specifically instructed that "'the full scope and meaning of [Article 3, Section 18] should be considered . . . in light of the evil intended to be remedied by its adoption.'" Singer v. Sheppard, 464 Pa. 387, 396, 346 A.2d 897, 901 (1975) (quoting Lewis v. Hollahan, 103 Pa. 425, 430 (1883)).

Viewing Article 3, Section 18 through the eyes and minds of the Constitutional delegates, we believe that the evils which they intended to remedy were statutes setting unreasonably low limits on recoveries against certain classes of defendants, such as a law enacted in 1868 limiting the ...


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