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KEITH W. SPEARING v. CYNTHIA G. STARCHER (10/05/87)

filed: October 5, 1987.

KEITH W. SPEARING, APPELLANT,
v.
CYNTHIA G. STARCHER, APPELLEE



Appeal from Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Indiana County, No. 1518 CD 1984.

COUNSEL

Mark J. Homyak, Carnegie, for appellant.

Louis C. Long, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Wieand, Kelly and Popovich, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 367 Pa. Super. Page 24]

In this appeal from a judgment entered following a defense verdict in which the jury specifically found that the defendant-driver had not been negligent, the plaintiff-appellant argues that the trial court erred when it (1) refused a requested jury instruction on the "last clear chance" doctrine, and (2) gave incorrect jury instructions on the "assured clear distance ahead" rule.

At or about 4:30 a.m. on December 8, 1982, Keith W. Spearing was driving his Volkswagen automobile in a northwardly direction on Route 119 in Indiana County when he allegedly hit a pothole in the road. He testified that the impact caused him to lose control of his vehicle, as a result of which it swerved across the roadway into the southbound lane, where it contacted and slid along a guardrail. The vehicle next struck a bridge abutment, which caused it to bounce into the southbound lane of the roadway, where it came to rest. Finding that he could neither restart his vehicle nor open the door on the driver's side, Spearing was moving across the front seat to exit on the passenger's side when his vehicle was struck by a vehicle operated in a southwardly direction by Cynthia G. Starcher. Spearing sustained severe and permanently disabling injuries.

The jury hearing the action which Spearing filed against Starcher found, in response to a special interrogatory, that Starcher had not been negligent. Post-trial motions were denied, and judgment was entered on the verdict. Spearing appealed.

The "last clear chance" as an offset to contributory negligence is a doctrine which has never been adopted in Pennsylvania. See: Kasanovich v. George, 348 Pa. 199, 202, 34 A.2d 523, 525 (1943). Despite the fact that the "last clear chance" doctrine has never been adopted by the Supreme Court, this Court by dictum has suggested that the doctrine could be applied as an offset against the harshness of the rule which barred recovery if a plaintiff were guilty of contributory negligence. Thus, in Lehman v. McCleary, 229 Pa. Super. 508, 329 A.2d 862 (1974), where the issue was

[ 367 Pa. Super. Page 25]

    the admissibility of evidence to prove the plaintiff's intoxication, this Court said, by way of dictum, the following:

And even if his own intoxication caused him to be in the roadway, this will not relieve the operators of the motor vehicles from striking him since under the discovered peril doctrine, which holds: that a plaintiff may recover notwithstanding his own negligence if the defendant failed to exercise due care to avoid inflicting the injury after he knew or should have known that the plaintiff was in a position of peril. Curt v. Ziman, 140 Pa. Super. 25, 12 A.2d 802 (1940). "A helpless human being on the highway is entitled to protection from motorists whether he be a hopeless dipsomaniac or a model of sobriety." Brazel v. Buchanan, 404 Pa. 188, 171 A.2d 151 (1961).

Id., 229 Pa. Superior Ct. at 512, 329 A.2d at 864. See also: Emerick v. Carson, 325 Pa. Super. 308, 316, 472 A.2d 1133, 1137 (1984) (where appellant contended that the failure to instruct the jury on the "discovered peril" doctrine had been reversible error, it was held that there had been no ...


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