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EDWARD KIRKBRIDE AND CAROLE KIRKBRIDE v. LISBON CONTRACTORS (06/26/89)

filed: June 26, 1989.

EDWARD KIRKBRIDE AND CAROLE KIRKBRIDE, APPELLEES,
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.

Author: Olszewski

[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 295]

This is an appeal from a final judgment entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County following the denial of appellant's motion for a new trial or judgment n.o.v.

Appellees, the Kirkbrides, own a home in East Caln Township, Chester County, which is situated on a thirtyacre wooded tract between Norwood Road and the Brandywine Creek. About 120 feet of the Kirkbrides' lot fronts on Norwood Road and extends across a ridge back to a former railroad easement that runs parallel to the Brandywine for more than 1000 feet behind their property.

In 1977, the Uwchalan Township Municipal Authority ("UTMA") obtained an easement for construction of a sewer line behind the Kirkbrides' property. The easement ran along the former railroad line and was parallel to the Brandywine. Later that year, Chester County took the land along the easement outright in order to construct a bike path and jogging path over the sewer line.

In furtherance of its plan, UTMA contracted with appellant, Lisbon Contractors, Inc. ("Lisbon"), to construct the sewer line and bike path. Lisbon began working on the project in February of 1978. The next month, a Lisbon bulldozer drove onto the Kirkbrides' property and proceeded to make a 1,200-foot clearing which would later be used as a storage area ("clearing incident"). After the sewer line was completed, Lisbon began restoration work. While doing so, Lisbon created an 800-foot embankment on the Kirkbrides' property which it later regraded to meet the adjoining hillside along the sewer line and bike path ("embankment incident").

In response, the Kirkbrides instituted a suit in trespass. Following a jury trial, the Kirkbrides were awarded $7,000 in compensatory damages and $70,000 in punitive damages for the clearing incident, and $12,000 in compensatory damages

[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 296]

    for the embankment incident. Following the denial of Lisbon's post-trial motions, Lisbon filed an appeal with this Court. On appeal, Lisbon contended that: (1) the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the amount awarded as punitive damages need not bear a reasonable relationship to the amount awarded as compensatory damages; (2) the amount awarded as punitive damages was grossly excessive and unsupported by the evidence; and (3) grading the embankment was a permanent alteration of the land which inflicted no compensable injury, thereby not entitling the plaintiffs to recover for the estimated cost of reconstructing the land to its former contours.

Upon review, this Court held that the trial judge did err in instructing the jury that punitive damages need not bear a reasonable relationship to the amount awarded as compensatory damages. Kirkbride v. Lisbon Contractors, Inc., 357 Pa. Super. 322, 516 A.2d 1 (1986). Accordingly, we reversed the decision of the trial court and appropriately refrained from ruling on the other issues presented by Lisbon. In response, the Kirkbrides appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which proceeded to reverse the decision of this Court and remand the matter to this Court for disposition of the remaining issues. Kirkbride v. Lisbon Contractors, Inc., 521 Pa. 97, 555 A.2d 800 (1989). These issues involve the alleged excessiveness ...


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