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Walker v. Drexel University

April 27, 2009

LOUIS AND ALISON WALKER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS HUSBAND AND WIFE, APPELLEES
v.
DREXEL UNIVERSITY, APPELLANT



Appeal form the Judgment Entered November 19, 2007. In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Civil at No(s): October Term, 2005 No. 004355

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Panella, J.

BEFORE: BOWES, PANELLA, JJ., and McEWEN, P.J.E.,

OPINION

¶ 1 Appellant, Drexel University ("Drexel"), appeals from the judgment entered on November 19, 2007, by the Honorable Matthew D. Carrafiello, Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, following the denial of Drexel's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). After careful review, we affirm.

¶ 2 The record in the case sub judice reveals that on November 7, 2003, Appellee, Louis Walker, a truck driver, employed by Pyramid Sheet Metal, was unloading a delivery truck at MacAlister Hall at Drexel University with his co-worker, Bill Simon. The loading dock at MacAlister Hall had rubber bumpers, which protruded approximately 2 to 2 1/2 inches above the loading dock. According to Walker, he backed the delivery truck toward MacAlister Hall's loading dock and Simon exited the truck and then lowered the tailgate. Immediately thereafter, Walker continued reversing the truck until it was pressed firmly against the middle of the bumper in loading dock. Walker was forced to traverse across the raised bumper to unload the materials and, in the course of unloading the materials from his truck, Walker's right foot hit the bumper on the loading dock and then went down onto the tailgate of the truck. Walker testified that he attempted to catch himself, but his right toe became hooked on the top of the bumper causing him to trip because the bumper was not level with the loading dock. As a result of the accident, Walker was diagnosed with a lumbar radiculopathy and a right knee meniscus tear.

¶ 3 A trial was held on May 29, 2007 and June 1, 2007, after which the jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellees and awarded Louis Walker $268,000.00 and his wife, Alison Walker, $7,500.00 in damages. Additionally, the jury found that Louis Walker was 30% comparatively negligent. After molding the verdict for delay damages and deducting the comparative negligence, the total verdict was entered in the amount of $202,835.33. Thereafter, on June 8, 2007, Drexel filed a motion for post-trial relief in the form of a motion for JNOV, which was subsequently denied by the trial court on October 30, 2007. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Drexel raises the following issues for our review:

1. Can a bumper extending two inches above a loading dock constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition or give rise to an unreasonable risk of harm where: (a) the bumper required plaintiff to step up only four to six inches (the size of an ordinary step); (b) the bumper is part of the inevitable change in elevation between the loading dock and the truck; (c) the bumper was built pursuant to an architect's design, had not been altered in the 30 years prior to the incident and was not defective; and (d) no one other than plaintiff ever had tripped over the bumper in the 30 years of its existence?

2. Was the existence of the bumper "known and obvious" to plaintiff, where plaintiff had safely traversed the bumper the first two times he went from his truck to the loading dock the afternoon of the incident, and where he admitted that he tripped the third time only because he misjudged his step?

. 3. Can the bumper have caused plaintiff's injury where plaintiff admitted that he tripped only because he "misjudged [his] step"?

Appellant's Brief at 3.

¶ 4 Our standard of review when reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion for JNOV, is well settled:

We must consider all of the evidence admitted to decide if there was sufficient competent evidence to sustain the verdict. In so doing, we must also view this evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, giving the victorious party the benefit of every reasonable inference arising from the evidence and rejecting all unfavorable testimony and inference. Concerning any questions of law, our scope of review is plenary. Concerning questions of credibility and weight accorded the evidence at trial, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the finder of fact. If any basis exists upon which the jury could have properly made its award, then we must affirm the trial court's denial of the motion for JNOV. A JNOV should be entered only in a clear case.

American Future Systems, Inc. v. BBB, 872 A.2d 1202, 1215 (Pa. Super. 2005) (citation omitted), aff'd, 592 Pa. 66, 923 A.2d 289 (2007). Further, a trial court can only enter JNOV upon two bases: "(1) where the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law; and/or, (2) the evidence was such that no two reasonable minds could disagree that the verdict should have been rendered for the movant." Id. We will reverse a trial court's denial of JNOV only where the trial court abused it discretion or committed an error ...


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