Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

NATIONAL FREIGHT v. SEPTA

September 30, 1988

NATIONAL FREIGHT, INC. and LANDIS LEASING, INC.
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY


Raymond J. Broderick, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

RAYMOND J. BRODERICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 National Freight has filed a motion for a new trial on the following two grounds: (1) that the Court erred in precluding the introduction of evidence of previous accidents involving SEPTA commuter trains at the River Road Crossing; and (2) that the Court erred in its jury instructions as to the respective standards of care owed by National Freight and SEPTA. In addition, National Freight has filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. For the reasons stated below, this Court will deny National Freight's motions.

 1. Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict

 It is well established that judgment notwithstanding the verdict may be granted only if, as a matter of law, the record is critically deficient of that minimum quality of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief. Danny Kresky Enterprises Corp. v. Magid, 716 F.2d 206, 209 (3d Cir. 1983). In considering such a motion, the Court may not weigh evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its judgment of facts for that of the jury. Blair v. Manhattan Life Insurance Co., 692 F.2d 296, 300 (3d Cir. 1982). In considering the motion, the court "must expose the evidence to the strongest light favorable to the party against whom the motion is made and give him the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference." Inventive Music Limited v. Cohen, 617 F.2d 29, 31 (3d Cir. 1980). Based upon a review of the record in the light most favorable to SEPTA, this Court finds that there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably afford the aforementioned relief.

 The evidence showed that on April 3, 1986, at approximately 11:30 a.m., a tractor-trailer, driven by an employee of National Freight, approached the River Road rail crossing. At approximately the same time, a two-car SEPTA commuter train was travelling in a northbound direction at 40 m.p.h. between the Shawmont and Miquon train stations. Subsequent to the train leaving the Shawmont station, the SEPTA conductor sounded his whistle on three separate occasions prior to the train reaching the River Road crossing. Moreover, 2137 feet prior to the River Road Crossing (a distance covered by the train in approximately 35 to 39 seconds), the train automatically tripped the warning signal lights at the River Road Crossing. Two sets of rail signals, clearly visible to vehicular traffic at the crossing, flashed a warning of an approaching train. An inspection of the signalling equipment made immediately after the accident revealed that it was fully operational and in working order. The triggering of the crossing signals approximately 35 to 39 seconds prior to the arrival of the train exceeded the minimum industry-wide standard by at least 15 to 19 seconds.

 The driver of the National Freight truck, as he approached and reached the River Road crossing had a clear and unobstructed view of the railroad tracks in both directions. The driver, without coming to a complete stop, and never turning his head to observe the track in the direction from which the train was approaching, entered the crossing despite the flashing of the crossing signals. Travelling at approximately three miles per hour, the National Freight truck was struck by the SEPTA commuter train in the River Road Crossing. The driver of the tractor trailer never saw the train or heard any whistles prior to the collision. Based upon the aforementioned evidence, we find that the jury's verdict was reasonably rendered.

 2. Exclusion of Evidence of Prior Accidents

 It is clearly established that the district court enjoys broad discretion under Rule 403 to exclude relevant evidence which it determines to be confusing, misleading, or unfairly prejudicial to the opposing party. See Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 124-25, 94 S. Ct. 2887, 2911, 41 L. Ed. 2d 590 (1974); United States v. Clifford, 704 F.2d 86, 89 (3d Cir. 1983). Indeed, as the Third Circuit stated in United States v. Long :

 
It is manifest that the draftsmen intended that the trial judge be given a very substantial discretion in balancing probative value on the one hand and unfair prejudice on the other, and that he should not be reversed simply because the appellate court believes that it would have decided the matter otherwise . . . The trial judge, not the appellate judge, is in the best position to assess the extent of the prejudice caused by a piece of evidence.

 574 F.2d 761, 767 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 985, 99 S. Ct. 577, 58 L. Ed. 2d 657 (1978). Thus, a trial court's rulings under 403 must stand absent a clear showing that the judge abused his discretion. United States v. Clifford, 704 F.2d at 89.

 Evidence of prior similar accidents is a proper and significant means of proving both the existence and knowledge of dangerous conditions. See e.g., Colangelo v. Penn Hills Center, Inc., 221 Pa. Super. 381, 292 A.2d 490, 491-92 (1972); Com., Penn. Dept. of Transp. v. Phillips, 87 Pa. Commw. 504, 488 A.2d 77, 84 (1985). ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.