256 So.2d 877 (Ala. 1972), 6 Div. 831, Shepherd v. Gardner Wholesale, Inc.

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Writing for the CourtMcCALL, Justice.
Citation256 So.2d 877,288 Ala. 43
Docket Number6 Div. 831.
Date13 January 1972
PartiesRoxie SHEPHERD v. GARDNER WHOLESALE, INC.

Page 877

256 So.2d 877 (Ala. 1972)

288 Ala. 43

Roxie SHEPHERD

v.

GARDNER WHOLESALE, INC.

6 Div. 831.

Supreme Court of Alabama.

January 13, 1972

Page 878

[288 Ala. 45] Nolen & Enslen, Fayette, Fite, Davis & Fite, Hamilton, for appellant.

Bankhead, Petree & Savage, Jasper, for appellee.

[288 Ala. 46] McCALL, Justice.

The appellant, Roxie Shepherd's, action against the appellee, Gardner Wholesale, Inc., an Alabama corporation, is in simple negligence for alleged serious physical injuries that she suffered in a fall. While a pedestrian on a public sidewalk, she tripped on a raised concrete slab that formed the foundation of a business building of the appellee Gardner Wholesale, Inc., that abutted the sidewalk at a street corner. The evidence is in dispute as to whether or not the raised slab extended onto the public sidewalk.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the appellee Gardner Wholesale, Inc., and the court duly entered judgment thereon. The plaintiff-appellant appeals from this judgment and from the judgment of the court denying and overruling her motion to set aside the verdict and grant her a new trial.

This slab over which the plaintiff stumbled was raised perpendicular to and three or four inches above the level of the sidewalk. Its apex fitted with and joined into

Page 879

the angle formed by the intersecting sidewalks at the street corner.

The appellant's assignment of error two is that the trial court erred in refusing to sustain her objection to the following question: 'I don't believe you told us what your employment is over there?' This was propounded to her son, George Hassell Shepherd, on cross-examination. The objection is also the subject of appellant's assignment of error one. These two assignments are argued together in appellant's brief. The witness' response was: 'I am involved in Industrial Relations, Personel (sic) work.' We will treat the question as calling on the witness to state his employment, and we do not think that it was improperly allowed.

Such a question, while not directly related to relevant matter, may be allowed. Questions to a witness directed toward aiding the jury in setting a proper estimate on the testimony of a witness are preliminary in their nature and, as a general rule, may be properly asked, as, for example, questions which relate to the age of the witness, his residence, his occupation, and his condition in life. 98 C.J.S. Witnesses § 344, p. 56.

In Boyette v. Bradley, 211 Ala. 370, 100 So. 647, plaintiff's witness testified that he was a passenger on a street car which collided with plaintiff's automobile; that the street car was running about 40 miles per hour racing with a jitney; that he did not see the automobile before it was hit but saw it afterwards. On cross-examination over the plaintiff's objection, the witness was asked and permitted to testify to what jobs he had had other than those that he had already testified about. Reviewing the issue, the Supreme Court held that the witness was properly cross-examined citing Ex parte State, 199 Ala. 255, 74 So. 366; Amos v. State, 96 Ala. 120, 11 So. 424; Carter v. State, 191 Ala. 3, 67 So. 981; Smith v. S. H. Kress & Co., 210 Ala. 436, 98 So. 378.

The Supreme Court of the State of Washington in the case of Lankford v. Tombari, 35 Wash.2d 412, 421, 213 P.2d 627, 632, 19 A.L.R.2d 462, said:

'* * * it is always proper to establish a witness' background and to place him in his setting by asking him what he is doing and what he has done for a living. Simonson v. Huff, 124 Wash. 549, 553--554, 215 P. 49. * * *'

The appellant contends that the answer revealing that Mr. Shepherd was involved in Industrial Relations, Personnel Work, for Manhattan Industries of New York, representing management in negotiating strikes, was highly prejudicial to appellant's case, because two of the jurors trying her case, together with their companies, had had difficulties with the union. We fail to see how such could prejudice the appellant. Her son and the two jurors [288 Ala. 47] were aligned on the same side representing management in labor relation matters. We find no error under assignments of error one and two.

Under appellant's assignments of error three and five, she attacks the validity of two written charges that were requested by the appellee and given by the court. We agree that these charges misstate the law to the prejudice of the appellant, and giving them necessitates a reversal of the case. These charges, which are neither numbered or otherwise identified, read as follows:

'The Court instructs the Jury that if you are reasonably satisfied from all the evidence that the negligence of the Defendants was not the sole proximate cause of the injuries of Roxie Shepherd, then your verdict must be for the Defendants.'

'The Court instructs the Jury that the burden of proof is upon the Plaintiff to show that the sole proximate cause of the injuries of Plaintiff was the result of the negligence of the Defendants; if you are not reasonably satisfied from all

Page 880

the evidence that Plaintiff has proven that the negligence of the Defendants was the sole proximate cause of the injuries of Roxie Shepherd, then your verdict must be for the Defendants.'

Gardner Wholesale, Inc., was the only remaining party defendant when these charges were requested and given. The other defendants had been stricken.

The wording of these two charges is unmistakenly clear. The appellee's first charge simply tells the jury that its verdict must be for the defendants, if the defendants' negligence was not the sole--single--proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. If the concurring negligence of another agency was also a proximate cause of the injuries, the defendant's negligence could not be the sole proximate cause, nonetheless, the jury is directed to return a verdict against the plaintiff.

In Chambers v. Cox, 222 Ala. 1, 3, 130 So. 416, 418, we said:

'* * * 'As a general rule, it may be said that negligence, to render a person liable, need not be the sole cause of an injury. It is sufficient that his negligence, concurring with one or more efficient causes, other than plaintiff's fault, is the proximate cause of the injury.' * * *'

To illustrate the point, made by the objection to this charge, we quote from Birmingham Ry., Light & Power Co. v. Ely, 183 Ala. 382, 391, 62 So. 816, 819, wherein the court said:

'* * * If two causes operate at the same time to produce a result which might be produced by either, they are concurrent causes, and in such case each is a proximate cause, but, if the two are successive and unrelated in their operation, one of them must be proximate and the other remote. Herr v. City of Lebanon, 149 Pa. 222, 24 A. 207, 16 L.R.A. 106, 34 Am.St.Rep. 603. As an illustration of concurrent causes, where lumber was negligently piled, and remained a long time in that condition, and was caused to fall by the negligence of a stranger, the negligence in piling concurring with the negligence of the stranger...

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