Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Boone

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtTHORNAL; DREW
Citation85 So.2d 834,57 A.L.R.2d 1186
Decision Date01 February 1956
PartiesATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation, Appellant, v. Frona Mae BOONE and Helen Goff, Appellees. Frona Mae BOONE and Helen Goff, Appellants, v. ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation, and H. J. Skinner, Appellees.

Page 834

85 So.2d 834
57 A.L.R.2d 1186
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation, Appellant,
v.
Frona Mae BOONE and Helen Goff, Appellees.
Frona Mae BOONE and Helen Goff, Appellants,
v.
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation, and H. J. Skinner, Appellees.
Supreme Court of Florida, Special Division B.
Feb. 1, 1956.
Rehearing Denied Feb. 29, 1956.

Page 836

Norman C. Shepard, Wilmington, N. C., Dewey A. Dye, Bradenton, LeRoy Allen and Ralph C. Dell, Tampa, for Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., appellant and appellees.

Mabry, Reaves, Carlton, Fields & Ward, Tampa, for Frona Mae Boone and Helen Goff, appellees and appellants.

THORNAL, Justice.

We have for consideration two separate appeals resulting from the verdict of a jury in favor of appellants Mrs. Boone and Mrs. Goff against the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company.

Appellants Boone and Goff appeal from an order of the trial judge granting a new trial pursuant to a motion filed by the Railroad.

By an entirely separate notice of appeal, the Railroad seeks reversal of an order of the trial judge refusing to enter a judgment for the Railroad pursuant to its motion for a directed verdict after the jury had rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and against the Railroad and after the trial judge had denied a similar motion for directed verdict at the conclusion of all of the evidence during the trial.

In the separate appeals no effort was made to cross-assign errors by the respective appellees.

The Goff case was previously before us on an appeal from an order of the trial judge granting a summary judgment for the defendant Railroad. This order was reversed on the ground that the facts shown by the motion and opposing affidavits revealed that questions of negligence and alleged contributory negligence were sufficiently in dispute that a jury decision on the problem was necessitated. See Goff v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., Fla.1951, 53 So.2d 777. Many of the alleged facts now before us were mentioned in our earlier opinion.

The case arose out of a collision between a moving freight train of the Atlantic

Page 837

Coast Line and an automobile operated by one Anthony J. Bartulevy. In addition to the driver of the car, the occupants thereof were John Boone, Helen Goff and Jewel Bullington. Boone and Mrs. Bullington were killed. Mrs. Goff was injured. Suits against the Railroad were instituted by Mrs. Goff, by Frona Mae Boone, widow of John Boone, and by V. L. Bullington, widower of Jewel Bullington. The suits were consolidated for trial and tried on the issues of negligence of the train crew, contributory negligence of the automobile passengers, negligence of Bartulevy, the automobile driver, and on the further question of the effect of certain documents executed with Bartulevy by Mrs. Goff, Mrs. Boone and Bullington, each styled 'Covenant Not to Sue'.

According to the testimony of members of the train crew, the bell on the engine was ringing, the whistle was blowing, and the train was traveling at a relatively moderate rate of speed across a wide-open crossing that permitted a clear view of the approaching train by the driver of the automobile on the intersecting highway. On the other hand, there is testimony for plaintiffs below that the train was traveling at a high rate of speed and that the signals of its approach were not given until the train was actually across the road. There was other testimony that an embankment and trees blocked the view of the approaching automobile driver and that he was exercising reasonable care and caution as he neared the crossing. There was evidence that the group in the automobile had spent the afternoon, from about noon until shortly after four o'clock when the collision occurred, visiting various and sundry beer taverns in the area. On the other hand, there was testimony that they had had very few beers and that the driver of the car was absolutely in control of his senses when he left the last tavern and proceeded on his tragic journey to the point of contact with the defendant's train. At the trial the judge deposited the problem of resolving all of these issues with the jury which, under our system, is the appropriate depository of the problem of arriving at factual conclusions to be determined from conflicting testimony.

In addition to these questions, the trial judge left with the jury the problem of determining whether the documents executed by Mrs. Goff and Mrs. Boone were releases or whether they were covenants not to sue. He also instructed the jury to determine whether the train crew and Bartulevy, the driver of the automobile, were joint tort-feasors. He advised them that if they found that the documents were releases and that Bartulevy was a joint tort-feasor with the Railroad, their joint negligence thereby causing the collision, then they would have to find for the Railroad for the reasons hereinafter mentioned. On the other hand, the jury was informed that if they determined the documents were covenants not to sue, such documents would not preclude a verdict against the Railroad even though they found that Bartulevy was a joint tort-feasor. As to Bullington, the court concluded as a matter of law that the document he signed was an outright release and in his case the jury was instructed that if they found that Bartulevy was a joint tort-feasor, they would have to find for the Railroad. However, Bullington asserted that the alleged release was obtained by misrepresentations and was therefore ineffective and the jury was further instructed by the judge that if they found from the evidence that the Bullington release was obtained by misrepresentations then it would not be a bar to his recovery against the Railroad but that any amount paid to him for the release should be deducted from the amount of any damages awarded to him against the Railroad.

At the conclusion of the testimony, the jury brought in a verdict in favor of Mrs. Goff and Mrs. Boone and against Bullington. Bullington has not appealed. As to Bullington, we have no way to determine from his record whether the jury decided against him on the theory that his wife was killed as the result of the negligence of joint tort-feasors (the Railroad and Bartulevy, the driver) and that the release of Bartulevy released the Railroad or whether they found for the Railroad on the proposition

Page 838

that the complete release had been obtained by misrepresentations but that in actuality Bullington had already been paid in full and had recovered all of the damages to which he was entitled. We emphasize the foregoing with reference to the verdict against Bullington to underscore the fact that in our consideration of the appeal by Mrs. Boone and Mrs. Goff, we cannot be led to the inescapable conclusion that in the Bullington aspect of the trial the jury necessarily found that Bartulevy, the driver, and the Railroad were joint tort-feasors. The importance of this observation will be emphasized later in the opinion.

Following the verdict for Mrs. Boone and Mrs. Goff and within the time allowed by former Common Law Rule 40 (1954 Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 2.7) the Railroad filed a motion renewing the motion for a directed verdict which it had submitted at the conclusion of all the testimony and in the alternative moved for a new trial, grounding its position in both motions on the theory that the evidence showed that the Railroad was guiltless of negligence and that Bartulevy's negligence was the sole cause of the collision or in the alternative that the Railroad and Bartulevy were joint tort-feasors and that the documents executed by Mrs. Goff and Mrs. Boone were complete releases rather than covenants not to sue and that the Railroad was thereby released from further liability.

After considering the matter for over a year, the trial judge entered an order granting the Railroad's alternative motion for a new trial reciting as his reasons his conclusion that as a matter of law the documents in question were complete releases rather than covenants not to sue and that in his opinion 'any liability of the defendant is that of a joint tort-feasor'. In the same order by which he granted the new trial, the trial judge denied the Railroad's motion for a judgment regardless of the adverse verdict. From the order granting the new trial, Mrs. Goff and Mrs. Boone have perfected one appeal. The Railroad has undertaken to perfect an...

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55 practice notes
  • Bjork v. Chrysler Corp., No. 84-131
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 27, 1985
    ...an express provision to the contrary. Ellis v. Bitzer (1925), 2 Ohio 89. See, e.g., Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Boone (Fla.1956), 85 So.2d 834; Getzendaner v. United Pacific Ins. Co. (1958), 52 Wash.2d 61, 322 P.2d 1089." The Injustice of The Common Law These common-law doctrines have b......
  • Video Trax, Inc. v. Nationsbank, N.A., No. 97-1586-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • December 10, 1998
    ...where there is no conflict of material facts, the question is one of law for the Court. See, e.g., Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Boone, 85 So.2d 834, 842 (Fla.1956); Richmond v. Florida Power & Light Co., 58 So.2d 687, 688 (Fla.1952); United States Rubber Prods. v. Clark, 145 Fla. 631, 20......
  • Hall v. Burger King Corp., Civil A. No. 89-0260-Civ-Kehoe.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • November 13, 1995
    ...construction of the release is a question of law to be resolved by the court, and not by a jury. Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Boone, 85 So.2d 834, 842 (Fla.1956). That is precisely the case (i) The 1986 Release 30. The MFA Release, which Agad and Balagamwala executed in connection with t......
  • U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. Mikes, No. 8:04-cv-2783-T-23TBM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • October 16, 2007
    ...assert any rights grounded thereon against a particular covenantee." Rosen, 802 So.2d at 295 (quoting Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Boone, 85 So.2d 834, 843 (Fla.1956)). In bad faith litigation, Florida courts hold that the release of a tortfeasor by an injured party relieves the insurer of i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
55 cases
  • Bjork v. Chrysler Corp., No. 84-131
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 27, 1985
    ...an express provision to the contrary. Ellis v. Bitzer (1925), 2 Ohio 89. See, e.g., Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Boone (Fla.1956), 85 So.2d 834; Getzendaner v. United Pacific Ins. Co. (1958), 52 Wash.2d 61, 322 P.2d 1089." The Injustice of The Common Law These common-law doctrines have b......
  • Video Trax, Inc. v. Nationsbank, N.A., No. 97-1586-CIV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • December 10, 1998
    ...where there is no conflict of material facts, the question is one of law for the Court. See, e.g., Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Boone, 85 So.2d 834, 842 (Fla.1956); Richmond v. Florida Power & Light Co., 58 So.2d 687, 688 (Fla.1952); United States Rubber Prods. v. Clark, 145 Fla. 631, 20......
  • Hall v. Burger King Corp., Civil A. No. 89-0260-Civ-Kehoe.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • November 13, 1995
    ...construction of the release is a question of law to be resolved by the court, and not by a jury. Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Boone, 85 So.2d 834, 842 (Fla.1956). That is precisely the case (i) The 1986 Release 30. The MFA Release, which Agad and Balagamwala executed in connection with t......
  • U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. Mikes, No. 8:04-cv-2783-T-23TBM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • October 16, 2007
    ...assert any rights grounded thereon against a particular covenantee." Rosen, 802 So.2d at 295 (quoting Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Boone, 85 So.2d 834, 843 (Fla.1956)). In bad faith litigation, Florida courts hold that the release of a tortfeasor by an injured party relieves the insurer of i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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