Before MARIS, KALODNER and HASTIE, Circuit Judges.
This suit for damages resulting from the death of Peter A. Martin was instituted by James Martin, Administrator of the Estate of Peter A. Martin ("plaintiff"), under the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act*fn1 and the Pennsylvania Survival Act.*fn2 Jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship.
The jury was directed to return a special verdict and in response to specific interrogatories, made these findings: the accident was caused by the negligence of defendant; plaintiff's decedent was not guilty of contributory negligence; the total amount of damages sustained by decedent's next of kin in the claim under the Wrongful Death Act was $3,000; the Estate of Peter A. Martin sustained no damages in the claim under the Survival Act. Judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff in the Wrongful Death action in the sum of $3,000 and in favor of defendant in the Survival action. Plaintiff was paid $3,000 by the defendant in accordance with the verdict and judgment in the Wrongful Death action. His motion for a new trial, limited to the question of damages or, in the alternative, for a new trial generally, in the Survival action was denied,*fn3 resulting in this appeal. Plaintiff contends that the judgment in favor of defendant in the Survival action is inconsistent with the jury's answer to interrogatories as to negligence and contributory negligence and the substantial verdict for plaintiff in the Wrongful Death action. He asks, as he did in the District Court, that the judgment in favor of defendant in the Survival action be set aside and a new trial granted on the question of damages only or, in the alternative, that a new trial generally be granted in the Survival action.
The testimony may be summarized as follows:
On November 27, 1957, Peter A. Martin, aged 14, was fatally injured when the bicycle he was riding was struck by an automobile operated by Inez Swift ("defendant"). The accident occurred on Route 5, approximately four and one-half miles east of Mercer, Pennsylvania, at or near a dirt road which forms the stem of a "T" intersection with that highway. Traffic entering Route 58 at this point is regulated by a "Stop" sign.
Defendant testified she was proceeding west on Route 58 at approximately 35-40 miles an hour; an automobile travelling in the same direction about a car's length in front of her made a right turn onto the dirt road; when "just to the intersection" she saw the boy on his bicycle pedalling on the dirt road toward the highway; she started to brake the car and turn to the left but was unable to avoid striking him as he entered the highway.
Gerald Craft, a plaintiff witness, testified that he was driving immediately behind defendant and that both cars were travelling at about 55 miles an hour, five miles in excess of the legal speed limit.*fn4 He placed the point of impact 20-25 feet west of the intersection making this a rear-end type collision. Photographs introduced by plaintiff, however, showed damage to the front of the bicycle and the right front of the automobile.
Decedent's father incurred expenses of $881.75 as a result of the death.*fn5
Decedent was a good student and a regular church goer. He was active in the school band and the local Juvenile Grange and won the American Legion Award as an outstanding student at the end of his eighth grade year. He was working part-time as a "car-hop" in Grove City at the time of his death, earning approximately two or three dollars a week. During the summer vacations from school he did odd jobs which were sufficient to furnish him with spending money. The record is silent on the question of how long decedent lived after having been struck but his mother stated that he never regained consciousness.
In its Opinion denying plaintiff's motion for a new trial the District Court noted "the conflicting nature of the evidence as to liability on the part of the defendant" and stated that in its view "The verdict of $3,000.00, if it had been allocated between the two actions, being substantially in excess of actual expenses, was not so grossly inadequate as to indicate mere caprice or mistake on the part of the jury as to the proper elements of damage", and "taking into consideration that the ultimate recipients of the damages awarded are the same in both actions, it is immaterial that the verdict in favor of the plaintiff was not allocated in a particular manner."*fn6
As we stated in Halprin v. Mora, 1956, 231 F.2d 197, 201, quoting 89 C.J.S. Trial § 569 b: "A special verdict, finding, or answer must be construed in the light of the surrounding circumstances. It is to be construed in the light of, and in connection with, the pleadings, instructions, the issues or questions submitted * * *."
Applying the principle stated to the instant case we are of the opinion, on review of the record, that the District Court did not err in holding that the verdicts here were not inconsistent and did not require a new trial in the Survival Act claim.
As the District Court observed, there was substantial conflict in the evidence on the score of defendant's liability. As it succinctly stated, "* * * the evidence was such that a verdict for the defendant would have been unassailable." The jury's extended deliberations before a verdict was reached reflected the extent of the conflict in the testimony as to liability. The District Court was justified in determining the jury's verdict of $3,000.00 was not, as earlier noted "so grossly inadequate as to indicate mere caprice or ...