Commonwealth Court says jury instructions not incorrect in bus accident case

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 28, 2016

Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania  

HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has affirmed a trial court decision that denied monetary damages to a pedestrian struck by a Capital Area Transit bus in Harrisburg in 2010.

Judges Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, Patricia A. McCullough and Rochelle S. Friedman ruled on Jan. 7 that a lawsuit initiated by appellant Ronit Chaudhuri against appellees Capital Area Transit (CAT), Cumberland-Dauphin-Harrisburg Transit Authority and Maria Matias would not proceed and the jury’s instructions were not incorrect. McCullough authored the court’s opinion in this matter.

In August 2010, Chaudhuri stepped off a CAT bus in Harrisburg and walked across North Third Street behind the bus he just exited, when he was hit in the face by the side mirror of another bus driven by Matias. The resulting impact knocked Chaudhuri unconscious, and he sustained several injuries to his face, wrist and forearm.

After a five-day jury trial in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas in September 2014, the jury determined Chaudhuri was 75 percent negligent and Matias was 25 percent negligent in the accident.

Chaudhuri soon filed a timely post-trial relief motion, arguing that the jury verdict was the fault of the Court in (1) instructing the jury regarding the law on pedestrian negligence; (2) instructing the jury regarding credibility of witnesses; and (3) allowing the defendants’ accident reconstruction expert, Matthew Daecher, to testify beyond the scope of his report.

Chaudhuri believed Judge William T. Tully prejudiced the jury by stating a legal preference for pedestrians to cross at the crosswalk, since vehicles must yield to persons inside the crosswalk – and Tully later quoted the state Motor Vehicle Code requiring all persons not crossing at a crosswalk to yield the right-of-way to all vehicles.

When he was struck by the CAT bus, Chaudhuri wasn't in a crosswalk.

McCullough said the trial court “never suggested that plaintiff violated the statute or recommended that the jury must find that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent based upon the fact that he did not cross at a crosswalk”; but rather, that “when an individual crosses the road at a place other than a crosswalk, the individual has to yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles and has to exercise due care in crossing the street.”

McCullough termed the statements shared with the jury as ones which “accurately reflect the law” and “did not tend to mislead the jury or recommend that the jury find [Chaudhuri] contributorily negligent.”

Chaudhuri also alleged the Court erred in allegedly instructing the jury to disregard the investigating officer’s police report, due to his presumed inability to accurately remember the scene of Chaudhuri’s accident.

But the record showed the Court let the jury decide the validity of the officer’s statements, which Chaudhuri’s counsel did not object to at the time.

“Given these circumstances, we cannot reasonably draw the inference that the trial court suggested that Officer Hammaker’s testimony relaying the police report was not credible,” McCullough said. “Nor can we conclude that plaintiff suffered discernable prejudice as a result of the trial court’s remarks.”

On behalf of the Commonwealth Court, McCullough then affirmed the ruling of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

The appellant is represented by Jonathan Ostroff, William Coppol and Louis Ricciardi of Ostroff Law, in Plymouth Meeting.

The appellees are represented by Stephen F. Moore of Peters & Wasilefski, in Harrisburg.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case 1467 C.D. 2015

Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas case 2011-CV-06795

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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