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EDWARD KIRKBRIDE AND CAROLE KIRKBRIDE v. LISBON CONTRACTORS (08/12/86)

filed: August 12, 1986.

EDWARD KIRKBRIDE AND CAROLE KIRKBRIDE
v.
LISBON CONTRACTORS, INC., APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE ORDER ENTERED AUGUST 23, 1983 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF CHESTER COUNTY, CIVIL NO. 50 JUNE TERM, 1979

COUNSEL

David G. Battis, Philadelphia, for appellant.

William H. Lamb, West Chester, for appellees.

Cirillo, President Judge, and Cavanaugh, Brosky, Wieand, McEwen, Olszewski, Del Sole, Montemuro and Tamilia, JJ. McEwen, J., files a concurring and dissenting opinion. Olszewski, J., files a dissenting opinion, joined by Del Sole, J. Del Sole, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Cirillo

[ 357 Pa. Super. Page 323]

The issue presented to this Court is whether a jury's award of punitive damages must bear a reasonable relationship to the amount awarded as compensatory damages. Specifically, did the trial court err when it instructed the jury to the effect that no such relationship need exist?*fn1

The subject jury charge followed a trial initiated by the Kirkbrides, owners of property that is part of a wooded, thirty-acre tract in East Caln Township, Chester County. The Kirkbrides' lot fronts for about 120 feet on Norwood Road and extends across a ridge back to a former railroad easement that runs parallel to the Brandywine Creek for more than 1000 feet behind their property. In 1977, the Uwchlan Township Municipal Authority obtained the former railroad easement for construction of a sewer line. Later

[ 357 Pa. Super. Page 324]

    that same year, Chester County took the easement outright to build a bike path and jogging trail over the sewer line. The Uwchlan Township Municipal Authority subsequently contracted with appellant, Lisbon Contractors Inc., to construct the sewer line and bike path.

Work on the project started in February, 1978. Early in the job, appellant's bulldozer turned onto the Kirkbride's property from the sewer line right of way and drove toward Norwood Road, making a clearing for about 1,200 feet. This clearing was later used as a storage area. During the restoration work, after the sewer line was completed, appellant pulled down an 800 foot embankment on the Kirkbride property, immediately parallel to the construction right of way, and regraded the slope to meet the adjoining hillside along the sewer line and bike path.

In June of 1979, the Kirkbrides instituted a suit in trespass as a result of appellant's actions. Following trial, the jury returned a verdict of $7,000 in compensatory damages and $70,000 in punitive damages for the land marred by the bulldozer, and $12,000 in compensatory damages, but no punitive damages, for the embankment which was regraded. Appellant timely filed motions for judgment n.o.v. and a new trial which were denied after argument. This appeal followed.

Appellant had requested the trial court to instruct the jury that the amount of an award of punitive damages must be reasonable and may not be disproportionate to any award of compensatory damages. The trial court refused to so instruct and instead, over appellant's objection, charged the jury as follows:

The amount you assess as punitive damages need not bear any relationship to the amount you choose to award as compensatory damages, and it is not necessary that you award compensatory damages to the plaintiffs in order to assess punitive damages against the defendant so long as you find in favor of the plaintiffs, as we tell you to do, on the question of liability.

[ 357 Pa. Super. Page 325]

Appellant contends that this charge was in error and necessitates the ...


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