275 N.E.2d 849 (Ind.App. 1971), 371A49, Mamula v. Ford Motor Co.

Docket Nº371A49.
Citation275 N.E.2d 849, 150 Ind.App. 179
Party NamePeter MAMULA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
Case DateDecember 06, 1971
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 849

275 N.E.2d 849 (Ind.App. 1971)

150 Ind.App. 179

Peter MAMULA, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 371A49.

Appellate Court of Indiana, Division No. 1.

December 6, 1971

Rehearing Denied Dec. 30, 1971.

Page 850

Joseph G. Ettl, Ettl & Ettl, Richard C. Kaczmarek, South Bend, for plaintiff-appellant.

James H. Pankow, South Bend, for defendant-appellee.

BUCHANAN, Judge.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE AND FACTS--This is an appeal of a personal injury products liability case from a directed verdict entered for the defendant-appellee,[150 Ind.App. 180] Ford Motor Company (Ford), at the close of plaintiff's evidence.

In December of 1964, plaintiff-appellant, Peter Mamula (Mamula) purchased a new 1965 Ford Ranch Wagon. Only routine service was required thereafter except for replacing the left shock absorbers twice and the clutch once.

On May 28, 1967, at 3:30 A.M., the Ranch Wagon had been driven about 21,600 miles. At that time Mamula was a passenger in the car while it was being driven south on the Mackinac Bridge by one Ted Szabo (Szabo). Suddenly, the car began to bounce wildly. Szabo testified that he lost complete control of the steering. The car veered sharply to the right striking the guard rail and the concrete median strip of the bridge, resulting in bodily injury to Mamula.

When it came to a halt, another passenger, Willis Bradway (Bradway), found the right front tie rod assembly about 120 feet to the rear of the car. Bradway testified that the ball-joint of the tie rod was snapped off flush with the socket. The tie rod was wrapped in a rag and retained by Mamula until December 20, 1967, when he delivered it to a Ford service representative for inspection. The service representative found no visible defect, so he sent the tie rod to Ford's facilities in Allen Park, Michigan, where it subsequently was lost and so not available at the trial.

Mamula brought an action against Ford alleging neglgence in that: (1) Ford failed to properly inspect the car's right front tie rod assembly; (2) Ford used inferior metal in manufacturing the tie rod; and (3) Ford failed to properly install the assembly.

Mamula's expert witness, George Rohrback, testified that a broken tie rod asembly could cause this type of an accident, but that other factors could also be a cause.

At the close of Mamula's presentation of evidence, the lower court granted Ford's Motion for a Directed Verdict. Mamula now appeals.

[150 Ind.App. 181] ISSUE--Was there any evidence of negligence or a reasonable inference thereof which could have been the basis for submitting the case to a jury?

Mamula contends that the accident was caused by the tie rod breaking. Since the testimony of Bradway and Rohrback supported this assertion, a question of fact for the jury arose.

Ford contends that Mamula's evidence produced nothing more than conjecture. Accordingly, the case was properly taken from the jury.

Page 851

DECISION--It is our opinion that there was a reasonable inference of negligence to be drawn from the conflicting evidence. Consequently, the case should not have been taken from the jury.

This court has recently held in Rouch v. Bising (Ind.App.1970), 258 N.E.2d 883, that:

'On appeal we will consider only the evidence most favorable to the party against whom the Motion for Directed Verdict was made and all reasonable inferences from such evidence. Layman v. Hall Omar Baking Co., 138 Ind.App. 673 (7 Ind.Dec. 459), 213 N.E.2d 726, rehearing denied (8 Ind.Dec. 186), 215 N.E.2d 692 (1966); Monon R.R. v. New York Central R. Co., 141 Ind.App. 277 (10 Ind.Dec. 644), 227 N.E.2d 450 (1967); and Beem v. Steel, 140 Ind.App. 512 (10 Ind.Dec. 158), 224 N.E.2d 61 (1967).'

The quantum of evidence necessary for a plaintiff to avoid a directed verdict at the close of his evidence has been determined by our Supreme Court to be any evidence or legitimate inference therefrom tending to support at least one of the plaintiff's allegations. Specifically, our Supreme Court held in Hendrix v. Harbelis (1967), 248 Ind. 619, 623, 230 N.E.2d 315, 318, that:

'It is only where there is a total absence of evidence or legitimate inferences in favor of plaintiff upon the issues, or where the evidence is without conflict and is susceptible of but one inference and that inference in favor of the [150 Ind.App. 182] defendant, that the court may give a peremptory instruction * * *.' (Emphasis supplied.)

Likewise, it was held in Sears v. Moran (1945), 223 Ind. 179, 181, 59 N.E.2d 566, 567, that:

'(I)f there is any evidence, or reasonable inference, that can be drawn from the evidence, * * * the disputed position will be deemed sufficiently proven.' (Emphasis supplied.)

See also Watson v. Watson (1952), 231 Ind. 385, 108 N.E.2d 893; Gamble v. Lewis (1949), 227 Ind. 455, 85 N.E.2d 629. 1

The rule is often stated to be that in a jury trial a court should not direct a verdict for a defendant at the close of a plaintiff's evidence unless there is a total absence of evidence or reasonable inference on at least one essential element of a plaintiff's case. Hendrix v. Harbelis, supra; Whitaker v. Borntrager (1954), 233 Ind. 678, 122 N.E.2d 734; Ecoff v. Central Indiana Gas Co. (1968), 143 Ind.App. 119, 238 N.E.2d 676; Stivers v. Old National Bank in Evansville (Ind.App.1970), 264 N.E.2d 339; Rouch v. Bisig, supra.

When passing on a motion for a directed verdict, the court is merely called on to determine if there is some evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant which the jury is entitled to consider. Jones v. Furlong (1951), 121 Ind.App. 279, 97 N.E.2d 369. Where the evidence is such that the minds of reasonable men might differ, or if the determination of negligence depends on conflicting evidence, then the question

Page 852

is for the jury. Hatmaker v. Elgin, Joliet [150 Ind.App. 183] & Eastern Railway Company (1956), 126 Ind.App. 566, 133 N.E.2d 86; Heiny v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company (1943) 221 Ind. 367, 47 N.E.2d 145; Robertson Brothers Department Store v. Stanley (1950), 228 Ind. 372, 90 N.E.2d 809; Haney v. Meyer (1966), 139 Ind.App. 663, 215 N.E.2d 886; Oliver v. Clemons' Estate (Ind.App.1968), 236 N.E.2d 72.

Therefore, a directed verdict is proper only when the evidence is without conflict and is susceptible of but one inference in favor of the moving party. State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Spidel (1964), 246 Ind. 458, 202 N.E.2d 886; Gibson v. Froman (1965), 138 Ind.App. 497, 212 N.E.2d 25; Mitchell v. Smith (1965), 138 Ind.App. 93, 211 N.E.2d 809; Reynolds v. Langford (1961), 241 Ind. 431, 172 N.E.2d 867.

Certain Indiana Appellate Court decisions in recent years have seemed to hold that there must be a total lack of substantial evidence to avoid a directed verdict. Richey v. Sheaks (1967), 141 Ind.App. 423, 228 N.E.2d 429; Layman v. Hall Omar Baking Co. (1965), 138 Ind.App. 273, 213 N.E.2d 726, 215 N.E.2d 692; Sparks v. Baldwin (1964), 137 Ind.App. 64, 205 N.E.2d 173; Bradford v. Chism (1963), 134 Ind.App. 501, 186 N.E.2d 432. Other language with essentially the same meaning as 'substantial' has also been used, such as 'substantial evidence of probative value' or 'more than a scintilla or suspicion.' We think any conflict between these cases and the standard defined by our Supreme Court, i.e., 'any evidence' is more apparent than real. A close examination of these cases indicates lip service to the 'substantial' test while applying the 'any evidence' rule in result. Through frequent usage aged concepts often become encrusted with unrelated layers of distortion which must be broken away from time to time. This is such an occasion.

Although we find no Supreme Court civil cases using language similar to 'substantial', our attention has been directed to two cases which seemingly use the 'substantial' test. Echterling v. Kalvaitis (1955), 235 Ind. 141, 126 N.E.2d[150 Ind.App. 184] 573; McCague v. New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Co. (1946), 225 Ind. 83, 71 N.E.2d 569, 73 N.E.2d 48. Echterling, supra, does say that there must be substantial evidence of probative value to sustain the decision of the court below, but it can be distinguished because it does not deal with the quantum of evidence necessary for a directed verdict. It deals with that evidence necessary for a trial court to enter a final judgment. Likewise, McCague, supra, deals with the weight and sufficiency of evidence required to uphold a final jury verdict, not a directed vedict.

Directing a verdict against a plaintiff at the close of his evidence deprives him of a jury decision. He may well feel robbed of what he considers a sacred right of his American heritage. While this right is not absolute in a civil case, 2 the cases cited herein support the rule that whenever there is any evidence allowing reasonable men to differ, a plaintiff should be given the benefit of the doubt, even though he has not substantially supported his allegations. Furthermore, such a requirement is not weighing the evidence--it merely allows a jury to decide whether negligence exists.

What harm can result from permitting a plaintiff a jury decision when a reasonable inference from the evidence exists in his favor? The trick is to determine what constitutes a 'reasonable inference' and what is mere conjecture or speculation. To require an issue to be submitted to the jury, there must be something more than a mere scintilla of evidence. Hollowell v. Greenfield (1966), 142 Ind.App. 344, 216 N.E.2d 537. This can only be accomplished

Page 853

by an examination of the circumstances of a particular case.

In International Harvester Co. v. Sharoff, 202 F.2d 52 (10th Cir. 1953), a truck manufactured by the defendant, Harvester, mysteriously overturned during normal use. The [150 Ind.App. 185] plaintiff brought an action against Harvester for failure to inspect the truck, particularly the torque rod and springs. It was admitted by...

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68 practice notes
  • 326 N.E.2d 577 (Ind.App. 1 Dist. 1975), 1--474A52, Myers v. Maris
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • April 30, 1975
    ...absence of evidence or reasonable inference on at least one essential element of the plaintiff's case. Mamula v. Ford Motor Co. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849; Johnson v. Mills (1973), Ind. [164 Ind.App. 39] App., 301 N.E.2d 205. The evidence must be without conflict and susceptib......
  • 331 N.E.2d 743 (Ind.App. 1 Dist. 1975), 1--374A44, Hendrickson & Sons Motor Co. v. Osha
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • July 30, 1975
    ...least one essential element of the plaintiff's claim, Miller v. Griesel (1974), Ind., 308 N.E.2d 701; Mamula v. Ford Motor Co. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849. The evidence must be without conflict and susceptible of but one inference, that being in favor of the moving party. In ex......
  • 346 N.E.2d 634 (Ind.App. 2 Dist. 1976), 2--374A70, Geyer v. City of Logansport
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • May 6, 1976
    ...preponderates in favor of the moving party. Miller v. Griesel (1974), Ind., 308 N.E.2d 701; Mamula v. Ford Motor Co. (2d Dist. 1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849; Hendrickson & Sons Motor Co. v. Osha (1st Dist.1975), Ind.App., 331 N.E.2d 743, 757; Adkins v. Elvard (1st Dist.1973), ......
  • 349 N.E.2d 173 (Ind. 1976), 676S181, Vernon Fire & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sharp
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • June 10, 1976
    ...differ, a directed verdict is improper, and the resolution of conflicting evidence is for the jury. Mamula v. Ford Mtr. Co. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849. STATEMENT ON THE LAW The parties to this appeal have briefed the evidentiary question without concern for the legal basis upo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
68 cases
  • 326 N.E.2d 577 (Ind.App. 1 Dist. 1975), 1--474A52, Myers v. Maris
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • April 30, 1975
    ...absence of evidence or reasonable inference on at least one essential element of the plaintiff's case. Mamula v. Ford Motor Co. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849; Johnson v. Mills (1973), Ind. [164 Ind.App. 39] App., 301 N.E.2d 205. The evidence must be without conflict and susceptib......
  • 331 N.E.2d 743 (Ind.App. 1 Dist. 1975), 1--374A44, Hendrickson & Sons Motor Co. v. Osha
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • July 30, 1975
    ...least one essential element of the plaintiff's claim, Miller v. Griesel (1974), Ind., 308 N.E.2d 701; Mamula v. Ford Motor Co. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849. The evidence must be without conflict and susceptible of but one inference, that being in favor of the moving party. In ex......
  • 346 N.E.2d 634 (Ind.App. 2 Dist. 1976), 2--374A70, Geyer v. City of Logansport
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • May 6, 1976
    ...preponderates in favor of the moving party. Miller v. Griesel (1974), Ind., 308 N.E.2d 701; Mamula v. Ford Motor Co. (2d Dist. 1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849; Hendrickson & Sons Motor Co. v. Osha (1st Dist.1975), Ind.App., 331 N.E.2d 743, 757; Adkins v. Elvard (1st Dist.1973), ......
  • 349 N.E.2d 173 (Ind. 1976), 676S181, Vernon Fire & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sharp
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • June 10, 1976
    ...differ, a directed verdict is improper, and the resolution of conflicting evidence is for the jury. Mamula v. Ford Mtr. Co. (1971), 150 Ind.App. 179, 275 N.E.2d 849. STATEMENT ON THE LAW The parties to this appeal have briefed the evidentiary question without concern for the legal basis upo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results