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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ELIZABETH L. HARRIS (03/13/87)

decided: March 13, 1987.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
ELIZABETH L. HARRIS, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of Elizabeth L. Harris v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. GD 79-20829.

COUNSEL

Brian H. Baxter, Deputy Attorney General, with him, Mark E. Garber, Chief, Tort Litigation Unit, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for appellant.

Peter J. Mansmann, for appellee.

Judge Craig, and Senior Judges Blatt and Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Senior Judge Kalish.

Author: Kalish

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 581]

Appellant, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Commonwealth), appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which entered a jury verdict in favor of appellee, Elizabeth L. Harris, in the amount of $126,000 for personal injuries sustained when she fell out of a trailer in which her office was located. We vacate and remand for a new trial.

Appellee was employed as an educational psychologist by Allegheny Intermediate Unit education system. Her principal work location was in a trailer

[ 104 Pa. Commw. Page 582]

    owned and possessed by the Commonwealth. The trailer had two entrances. One was a ramp and the other a concrete block stairway. In preparation for the relocation of the trailer, the ramp entrance had been removed.

Appellee testified that when she arrived at the trailer for work, her usual means of entrance, the ramp, had been removed, but the concrete block stairway was still intact and in place. She used that stairway to enter the trailer. Appellee worked for a while and then walked to the doorway where the ramp had been, stepped out into the open space and fell to the ground. Thus, appellee claimed that appellant failed to provide the care appropriate to a business visitor.

At the trial, during the closing statement by appellant's counsel, appellee suffered a seizure. Appellant's counsel requested a mistrial. The trial judge polled the jury, and determined that each juror could still render a fair and impartial verdict. The jury returned a verdict in favor of appellee in the amount of $180,000, reduced by thirty percent causal negligence attributed to her, resulting in an award of $126,000. Appellant filed motions for post-trial relief and judgment N.O.V. which were denied.

Initially, appellant contends that the seizure sustained by appellee during the closing argument was so prejudicial that the trial court should have granted a mistrial. The grant of a mistrial is within the discretion of the trial court. Commonwealth v. Gardner, 490 Pa. 421, 416 A.2d 1607 (1980). Here, the trial judge polled the jurors as to their ability to render an impartial verdict, and the jurors stated that ...


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