Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, No. GD 81-30367.
Brian H. Baxter, Deputy Attorney General, with him, Mark E. Garber, Chief, Tort Litigation Unit, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for appellant/appellee.
David P. Helwig, with him, Aloysius F. Mahler, Sharlock, Repcheck & Mahler, for appellee/appellant.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.
[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 612]
The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) cross-appeal an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court order denying post-trial motions and entering judgment in favor of Conrail. We affirm.
A landslide removed the soil supporting a railroad bed next to a DOT-maintained highway and caused Conrail's railroad tracks to shift. As a result, a train wreck involving substantial property damage*fn1 occurred. Conrail commenced an action against DOT, alleging that the landslide was caused by DOT's negligent failure to maintain the drainage structures along the highway. DOT answered that it was Conrail's own negligence in maintaining its drainage pipes which caused the accident.
Prior to trial, the common pleas court ruled, over Conrail's objection, that Section 8528 of the Judicial
[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 613]
Code*fn2 barred recovery in excess of $250,000. Thus, because damages exceeding $500,000 were stipulated to, the only issue presented to the jury was the parties' liability. The jury found DOT liable and awarded a verdict in favor of Conrail.*fn3
Conrail filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds (1) that the $250,000 statutory cap on damages was unconstitutional and (2) that delay damages should not have been computed on the statutory cap but on Conrail's actual damages. DOT submitted a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the ground that Conrail's claim lay, if at all, under Section 5110(b)(5) of the Code -- the naturally caused dangerous highway conditions, or "pothole" -- exception to immunity, rather than Section 5110(b)(4) governing negligently caused highway defects. DOT also filed a motion for a new trial on the ground that the common pleas court improperly instructed the jury. Both parties' motions were denied.
Mindful that the disposition of post-trial motions is for the sound discretion of the trial court, Abbott v. Steel City Piping Co., 437 Pa. 412, 263 A.2d 881 (1970), we shall address Conrail's appeal from the denial of a new trial before proceeding to DOT's appeal. We note initially, however, that under our scope of review of new trial motions, the ...