193 S.E.2d 594 (S.C. 1972), 19540, Smoak v. Seaboard Coast Line R. Co.

Docket Nº:19540.
Citation:193 S.E.2d 594, 259 S.C. 632
Opinion Judge:LITTLEJOHN, Justice:
Party Name:J. C. SMOAK and Dalton L. Truluck, as Administrators of the Estate of Arnold Ray Smoak, Respondents, v. SEABOARD COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, Appellant.
Attorney:Robert M. Erwin, J., Esq., of Burns, McDonald, Bradford, Erwin and Few, Greenwood, for Appellant, cites: As to the Respondent's intestate being guilty, as a matter of law, of contributory negligence, contributory gross negligence, contributory willfulness and wantonness, so as to bar recovery, an...
Case Date:December 14, 1972
Court:Supreme Court of South Carolina
 
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Page 594

193 S.E.2d 594 (S.C. 1972)

259 S.C. 632

J. C. SMOAK and Dalton L. Truluck, as Administrators of the

Estate of Arnold Ray Smoak, Respondents,

v.

SEABOARD COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, Appellant.

No. 19540.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

December 14, 1972

Page 595

[259 S.C. 633] Robert M. Erwin, Jr., of Burns, McDonald, Bradford, Erwin & Few, Greenwood, for appellant.

[259 S.C. 634] Murdaugh, Eltzroth & Peters, Hampton, for respondents.

[259 S.C. 635] LITTLEJOHN, Justice:

This common law action for wrongful death arises as a result of a railroad grade crossing collision involving a pickup truck and a freight train. The plaintiffs' intestate was riding as a passenger in the cab of the truck when the collision occurred. We are called upon to determine if the intestate was guilty, as a matter of law, of contributory negligence, gross negligence, willfulness and wantonness, so as to bar recovery. Incidental to the verdict for $75,000 actual damages and $25,000 punitive damages, the issue of excessive damages is raised. We must also examine a witness's unresponsive answers to determine if a mistrial should have been granted.

At appropriate stages of the trial, motions for nonsuit, for directed verdict, and for judgment Non obstante veredicto were made and denied. All the motions were grounded on the proposition that the intestate was, as a matter of law, guilty of contributory negligence, gross negligence, willfulness and wantonness. The first question we decide is whether the intestate was guilty of such as a matter of law.

A ruling upon this question requires us to review the evidence for the purposes of determining whether it is susceptible of more than one reasonable inference. For the purpose of our review, the evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Gillespie v. Ford et al., 225 S.C. 104, 81 S.E.2d 44 (1954). The intestate was a passenger in a pickup truck, owned and operated by his brother, Norris Smoak, when it collided with a freight train, owned and operated by the defendant. Another [259 S.C. 636] brother, James Smoak, and Henry McMillan were also passengers. James Smoak was also killed in the collision. They were returning to their homes in Colleton County from a construction job in Beaufort County, by way of a shortcut suggested by James Smoak. Both the driver and the intestate were unfamiliar with the road which they were traveling. The collision occurred late in the afternoon, when it was daylight and visibility was good. The terrain was level; it was in a rural area; and the road was straight. The train was approaching the crossing from the pickup driver's right. There is evidence that the driver of the pickup slammed on his brakes and skidded 177 feet before reaching the point of impact. Defense witness Rolf Roley, a professional engineer and reconstruction expert, testified that in his opinion the pickup was traveling approximately...

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