Simmons v. Mullen

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore WATKINS; SPAETH
Citation231 Pa.Super. 199,331 A.2d 892
Decision Date11 December 1974
PartiesJean SIMMONS, a minor, by her parent and natural guardian, Charles L. Simmons v. Geraldine MULLEN, Appellant, et al.

Page 892

331 A.2d 892
231 Pa.Super. 199
Jean SIMMONS, a minor, by her parent and natural guardian,
Charles L. Simmons
v.
Geraldine MULLEN, Appellant, et al.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
Dec. 11, 1974.
Application for Allocatur Denied April 15, 1975.

Page 894

[231 Pa.Super. 202] James R. Barozzini, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

James R. Duffy, Cosmos J. Reale, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

[231 Pa.Super. 201] Before WATKINS, President Judge, and JACOBS, HOFFMAN, CERCONE, PRICE, VAN der VOORT and SPAETH, JJ.

[231 Pa.Super. 202] SPAETH, Judge:

This case arises from an accident in which appellee, Jean Simmons, a minor, was hit by an automobile driven by appellant, Geraldine Mullen. Originally there were several defendants but the jury returned a verdict only against appellant. The verdict was $25,000 for appellee and $549.60 for her father, to cover medical expenses. The issues are whether there was error in the charge, whether expert testimony was erroneously admitted, and whether the verdict was excessive.

The accident occurred on Pioneer Avenue in Pittsburgh at approximately 3:15

Page 895

P.M. Pioneer Avenue runs north and south and has four lanes and abutting sidewalks. Appellee, aged seven years and seven months, was returning home from St. Pius Grade School. She was walking north from the school on the east sidewalk of Pioneer Avenue. A number of children were on both sides of the street. An open trench stretched across the sidewalk to the center of the street. Backhoe equipment blocked the sidewalk. Dirt from the excavation was in a pile, variously described by witnesses as three to six feet high, which extended from the east sidewalk to the center of the street. When appellee reached the excavation, she left the sidewalk and ran across the street toward the west sidewalk. She was within a foot or two of the opposite curb when [231 Pa.Super. 203] she was struck by appellant's southbound car. Appellee's witnesses estimate the car's speed at 25 to 30 miles per hour.

Appellant, who resided in the general area, had driven through this section of Pioneer Avenue on other days at this time to attend her scheduled classes at Allegheny Community College. On those occasions she had observed school children on both sides of the street, but the sidewalk and street had not been blocked. Appellant testified that on the day of the accident she could not have been driving more than 15 miles per hour because she knew children area was a school zone. She explained further that she waited in front of the dirt pile to let some oncoming cars turn around her. She said she then proceeded forward at about 10 miles per hour and saw children on the right (west) sidewalk but not on the left side. Cross-examination revealed that she never looked to the left as she passed the dirt pile and therefore did not see appellee until appellee was directly in front of her right headlight.

The collision knocked appellee into the air and she landed unconscious. She was placed under the care of Dr. Gray and his associates at Mercy Hospital where she remained for five days. The diagnosis was 'cerebral concussion and multiple contusions and abrasions'. An electroencephalogram administered on June 10, 1970, was abnormal, but a repeat test in November registered a normal response. Dr. Gray found no demonstrable organic abnormalities thereafter. Continued complaints by appellee and her family, including alleged emotional changes, caused Dr. Gray to recommend psychological evaluation, and he referred appellee to Robert Romano, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who, after conducting several interviews and a variety of psychometric tests, concluded that appellee had suffered minimal organic brain damage.

[231 Pa.Super. 204] Appellant claims that the trial court erred in its charge to the jury. The contested portion of the charge is as follows:

There is also a rule of law that normally when a pedestrian is crossing between intersections, as crossing a street in the middle of a block, it must be shown that the pedestrian was in the highway and visible to the driver of an automobile for a sufficient length of time and far enough away so that the driver is able to bring his vehicle under control or to take other action to avoid striking the pedestrian. However, in the instant case, this rule is modified as to whether or not the surrounding circumstances of this case, the children coming home from school, the barricade on the highway should have apprised the driver, Defendant Mullen, on notice of possible pedestrians, i.e. children, darting into the street, and whether Defendant Mullen had her car under control as to meet the conditions of this particular street at this particular time. (emphasis added)

Specifically, appellant argues that the charge was an incorrect statement of law because it placed on her the duty to anticipate children darting into the street. She submits that the charge should have been that an operator of a car is not responsible if a child suddenly runs from a place of safety into the path of the vehicle.

Page 896

In some circumstances this claim would be correct. However, a driver's 'duty is governed entirely by the circumstances' of the particular case. Purdy v. Hazeltine, 321 Pa. 459, 461, 184 A. 660, 661 (1936). Ordinarily an automobile driver is only negligent if the evidence shows that the child was on the highway and visible for a sufficient period of time to give the driver a reasonable opportunity to see him and to avoid an accident. Flagiello v. Crilly, 409 Pa. 389, 187 A.2d 289 (1963); Lucas v. Bushko, 314 Pa. 310, 171 A. 460 [231 Pa.Super. 205] (1934); Cupelli v. Revtai, 218 Pa.Super. 277, 275 A.2d 673 (1971). A driver is therefore not required generally to anticipate a child's sudden dash into the path of his car. Jones v. Spidle, 213 Pa.Super. 81, 245 A.2d 677 (1968); Poulson v. Gamble, 197 Pa.Super. 300, 178 A.2d 839 (1962). If at a given place, however, there is something to warn the driver that he should expect such heedless acts, it becomes his duty to exercise a higher degree of care than under ordinary circumstances. Geiger v. Schneyer, 398 Pa. 69, 157 A.2d 56 (1960); Ondrusek v. Zahn, 356 Pa. 537, 52 A.2d 461 (1947); Purdy v. Hazeltine, Supra.

Here, appellant was proceeding through an elementary school zone when school was dismissed. She kniw that school was dismissed at this time and that when it was, children used both sides of the street, and she saw that children were in fact present. Moreover, she had noticed that the east sidewalk was blocked by construction equipment and the pile of dirt. The law has recognized that special care is required for the protection of children who congregate in the vicinity of a school house. Stevenson v. Sarfert, 310 Pa. 458, 165 A. 225 (1933); Mulhern v. Phila. Homemade Bread Co., 257 Pa. 22, 101 A. 74 (1917). The tendency of small children to dart across streets near schools cannot be ignored by drivers. Rankin v. Ward Baking Co., 272 Pa. 108, 116 A. 58 (1922). Further, the obstructions here meant that the children had reason to leave the sidewalk and that appellant's scope of vision must have been limited. These circumstances should have warned appellant to expect heedless acts of children, and it thereby became her duty to exercise a higher degree of care than under ordinary circumstances.

In Robb v. Miller, 372 Pa. 505, 94 A.2d 734 (1953), a five year old boy ran into the street in front of his school from between two parked cars. The defendant's [231 Pa.Super. 206] car, going 25 to 30 miles per hour, hit him, inflicting fatal injuries. The court explained that this was not a 'darting out' case in the usual sense. 'While drivers are not required to anticipate that a child will run from a place of safety into the path of oncoming vehicles, as many of our cases hold, they (the drivers) are always charged with care under the particular circumstances.' Id. at 507, 94 A.2d at 735. The court held that since the driver knew that children were in movement around their school and that his vision was impaired by the parked cars, his failure to respond to these dangerous circumstances constituted negligence. Quoting from Frank v. Cohen, 288 Pa. 221, 225, 135 A. 624, 625 (1927), the court said:

(T)he presence of children in large numbers in his immediate way should have caused him (the driver of an automobile) to exercise the degree of care their presence required . . . It becomes his duty, in passing through or by these groups, to Bring his car under such control that it can be stopped on the shortest possible notice.

Similarly, in this case the dangerous condition on Pioneer Avenue required a higher than ordinary degree of care. Appellant should have been on notice of possible darting children and should have kept her car under sufficient control to meet the particular conditions confronting her. The trial court was not in error when it so informed the jury.

Page 897

II

Appellant next contends that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the depositions of the two expert witnesses, George H. Gray, M.D. and Robert Romano, Ph.D., to be read to the jury. 1 She specifically argues that Dr. Romano was not qualified to [231 Pa.Super. 207] speak on organic brain problems, that his testimony was inadmissible because it was based on equivocal data, that he was not qualified to testify on the causal link between the brain damage and the accident, and that all the expert testimony was inadmissible because it was contradictory.

As mentioned initially, Dr. Gray treated appellee for temporary injuries including a concussion and multiple abrasions, but testified that when he could find no evidence of permanent 'organic abnormalities', he recommended a psychological evaluation and referred appellee to Dr. Romano, a clinical psychologist. Dr. Romano testified as follows: He interviewed appellee and her mother and had his assistant administer a battery of tests to...

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56 practice notes
  • Taylor v. Celotex Corp.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • May 7, 1990
    ...within the discretion of the jury, which weighs the evidence and assesses the credibility of the witnesses. See Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Super. 199, 331 A.2d 892 (1974). The decision to grant or to deny a new trial on the ground of excessiveness lies, in turn, within the discretion of the ......
  • Com. v. Gallagher
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • May 12, 1986
    ...condition. In Kravinsky v. Glover, 263 Pa.Superior Ct. 8, 396 A.2d 1349 (1979), and Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Superior Ct. 199, 331 A.2d 892 (1974), we held that psychologists, who hold doctoral rather than medical degrees, were qualified to testify as to their diagnoses of emotional For th......
  • Delahanty v. First Pennsylvania Bank, N.A.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 26, 1983
    ...The fact-finder must assess the worth of the testimony, by weighing the evidence and determining its credibility, Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Super. 199, 331 A.2d 892 (1974), and by accepting or rejecting the estimates of the damages given by the witnesses. Fierman v. Southeastern[318 Pa.Supe......
  • Kravinsky v. Glover
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 19, 1979
    ...been acknowledged as experts qualified to testify on diagnosis, prognosis, and causation of emotional disturbance." Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Super. 199, 208, 331 A.2d 892, 897-98 n. 2 (1975). However, it is an abuse of discretion to admit an expert's opinion if it lacks an adequate factual......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
56 cases
  • Taylor v. Celotex Corp.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • May 7, 1990
    ...within the discretion of the jury, which weighs the evidence and assesses the credibility of the witnesses. See Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Super. 199, 331 A.2d 892 (1974). The decision to grant or to deny a new trial on the ground of excessiveness lies, in turn, within the discretion of the ......
  • Com. v. Gallagher
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • May 12, 1986
    ...condition. In Kravinsky v. Glover, 263 Pa.Superior Ct. 8, 396 A.2d 1349 (1979), and Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Superior Ct. 199, 331 A.2d 892 (1974), we held that psychologists, who hold doctoral rather than medical degrees, were qualified to testify as to their diagnoses of emotional For th......
  • Delahanty v. First Pennsylvania Bank, N.A.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 26, 1983
    ...The fact-finder must assess the worth of the testimony, by weighing the evidence and determining its credibility, Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Super. 199, 331 A.2d 892 (1974), and by accepting or rejecting the estimates of the damages given by the witnesses. Fierman v. Southeastern[318 Pa.Supe......
  • Kravinsky v. Glover
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 19, 1979
    ...been acknowledged as experts qualified to testify on diagnosis, prognosis, and causation of emotional disturbance." Simmons v. Mullen, 231 Pa.Super. 199, 208, 331 A.2d 892, 897-98 n. 2 (1975). However, it is an abuse of discretion to admit an expert's opinion if it lacks an adequate factual......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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