Black Belt Wood Co., Inc. v. Sessions
|Supreme Court of Alabama
|514 So.2d 1249
|BLACK BELT WOOD COMPANY, INC. v. Leonard Earl SESSIONS, as Administrator of the Estate of James Karl Sessions, deceased. 84-1222.
|03 October 1986
Jack B. Porterfield, Jr. and William T. Mills II, Porterfield, Scholl, Bainbridge, Mims & Harper, Birmingham, for appellant.
Alex W. Newton of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, and R. Gordon Pate of Pate, Lewis & Lloyd, Birmingham, for appellee.
This action involves an accident which occurred on February 7, 1980. On that day, James Karl Sessions, a young man 19 years of age, was driving his automobile on a street in York, Alabama. A log truck traveling in the opposite direction met the car Sessions was driving. Just as the vehicles were in the process of meeting each other, a log, which weighed between 300 and 500 pounds, came off the truck and crushed the automobile which young Sessions was driving, killing him instantly. S and T Trucking Company (S & T) owned the truck and Robert T. Poole, an employee of S & T, was driving the truck. Black This is the second time that this case (and the issue of Black Belt's negligence in loading the truck) has been before this Court. See, Black Belt Wood Co. v. Sessions, 455 So.2d 802 (Ala.1984). Leonard Earl Sessions, plaintiff/appellee, originally filed suit against American Can Company, Black Belt, S & T, Robert Poole, and John Tidmore, principal owner of S & T, a corporation. At the conclusion of the first trial, the court granted Tidmore's motion for directed verdict and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Black Belt, American Can Company, and Robert Poole. A verdict was returned against S & T and in favor of Sessions in the amount of $250,000.
Belt Wood Company, Inc. (Black Belt) loaded the pulpwood trailer.
Sessions filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, as to American Can Company, Black Belt, and Robert Poole, or, in the alternative, for a new trial against all defendants. The trial court granted a new trial in favor of Sessions and against Robert Poole, S & T, and Black Belt, but not against American Can Company.
Black Belt appealed the trial court's order. This Court originally held that the trial court erred as a matter of law and reinstated the jury verdict in favor of Black Belt. On Sessions's application for rehearing, this Court reversed its holding and affirmed the trial court's order granting a new trial. Black Belt's application for rehearing was denied.
The case was tried a second time. Black Belt filed a motion for a directed verdict, which was denied. The jury returned a verdict against Robert Poole, S & T, and Black Belt in the amount of $3,500,000. Black Belt filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative, for a new trial, which was denied. This appeal followed.
Black Belt presents seven issues on appeal. We will first address Black Belt's contention that the trial court erred when it failed to grant Black Belt's motion for directed verdict, or, in the alternative, its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The law of Alabama is clear as to the standards for testing a motion for directed verdict and a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The standard for testing a motion for directed verdict is identical to that for testing a motion for JNOV. Casey v. Jones, 410 So.2d 5 (Ala.1981). Both motions test the sufficiency of the evidence. Wright v. Fountain, 454 So.2d 520 (Ala.1984). These motions should be denied if there is any conflict in the evidence for the jury to resolve, and the existence of such conflict is to be determined by the scintilla rule. Hanson v. Couch, 360 So.2d 942 (Ala.1978).
We are of the opinion that a scintilla of evidence was presented by the appellee to support his position that Black Belt negligently loaded the logs. The evidence reveals that the logs belonged to Black Belt and that Black Belt employees loaded the logs. Black Belt knew that the logs were going to be transported a distance of approximately 60 miles. There was also testimony presented that logs loaded in the same manner by Black Belt had fallen off trucks on previous occasions. After examining the pictures of the particular load in this case, Mr. Tidmore, one of the owners of S & T, testified that the logs were improperly loaded. He also testified that complaints had previously been made to Black Belt that some of its trucks had been improperly loaded.
Black Belt also argues that negligence in the loading of the logs in an improper manner could not have been the proximate cause of the accident because it was the duty of the driver to keep the logs properly secured by chains. Black Belt relies on Vines v. Plantation Motor Lodge, 336 So.2d 1338 (Ala.1976). In Vines this Court stated:
In this case, Black Belt should have reasonably foreseen an injury occurring. The evidence in this case is that these big logs frequently fall off trucks and that complaints had previously been made to Black Belt that some of the trucks had been improperly loaded. Black Belt did nothing to change its practices before this accident occurred and, by the time of the trial, had made no changes in its method of operation.
We are of the opinion that the trial court did not err when it denied Black Belt's motion for a directed verdict, or, in the alternative, JNOV.
Black Belt's second contention on appeal is that the trial court erred when it failed to grant its motion for a new trial. Black Belt argues that the great preponderance of the evidence was that the loading was proper.
The decision of whether to grant or deny a motion for a new trial rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. Hill v. Cherry, 379 So.2d 590 (Ala.1980). A denial of a motion for new trial strengthens the presumption of correctness afforded a jury verdict, Osborne v. Cobb, 410 So.2d 396 (Ala.1982), and the decision of the trial court will not be disturbed unless the verdict is against the preponderance of the evidence, or is clearly wrong or unjust. Shiloh Construction Co. v. Mercury Construction Corp., 392 So.2d 809 (Ala.1980).
This Court stated in its original opinion in this case:
After re-examining the record, and from the evidence set forth above, we conlcude that the evidence supports the verdict in favor of Sessions and against Black Belt.
Black Belt's third contention to this Court is that the trial judge erred in his instructions to the jury. Black Belt argues that Code 1975, § 32-5-76(a), was inapplicable and that the reading of it was inappropriate and constituted reversible error.
The trial court, in its instructions, stated:
Code 1975, § 32-5-76, states:
"(a) Whoever willfully and knowingly operates, owns or causes to be operated
on any public highway, road or street a motor vehicle so loaded with gravel, rock, slag, bricks, sawdust, chips, wood products or other like substances, in such manner or in such condition that the contents of the vehicle spill out...
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