Bragg v. C. I. Written Transfer Co.

Decision Date01 June 1943
Docket Number(No. 9436)
Citation125 W.Va. 722
PartiesDenver Bragg v. C. I. Written Transfer Company
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

Appeal and Error

"Ordinarily, when contributory negligence of the plaintiff is relied on as a defense, it is prejudicial error to give for the plaintiff an instruction which directs the jury to find for the plaintiff if certain recited facts are believed by the jury from the evidence, but which instruction does not specifically negative contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff. The error involved in the giving of such erroneous instruction is not corrected by the giving to the jury of other instructions covering contributory negligence". Nichols v. Mining Co., 113 W. Va. 631, Pt. 1, Syl., 169 S. E. 451.

Error to Circuit Court, Cabell County.

Action by Denver Bragg against C. I. Whitten Transfer Company and another for injuries sustained in a collision between a motor truck and a motorcycle. Verdict and judgment for plaintiff against named defendant, and named defendant brings error.

Judgment reversed; verdict set aside; new trial awarded.

E. A. Marshall, of counsel, Fitzpatrick, Strickling & Marshall, for plaintiff in error.

G. C. Belknap, for defendant in error.

Lovtns, Judge:

This action was instituted in the Circuit Court of Cabell County by Denver Bragg against Jewel Adams and C. I. Whitten Transfer Company. Process was not served on Adams, a trial was had as to the latter defendant which resulted in a verdict and judgment against it, and the case is here for review on writ of error.

A collision occurred in the afternoon of September 22, 1940, between a motor truck owned by defendant corporation, driven by Adams, and a motorcycle operated by Bragg. Adams was an employee of the transfer company and, at the time of the accident, was performing his duties, being that of transporting goods from Huntington, West Virginia, to Bluefi.eld, West Virginia, and intermediate points. Prior to the time of the collision he had permitted a man named Brown to ride in the truck, Brown being with him at the time of the collision. Willard Sumler was riding with Bragg on the motorcycle.

The vehicles collided at the; entrance to "Camp Logan", a Civilian Conservation Camp on U. S. Route No. 119. The motor truck was being driven toward the City of Logan and the motorcycle in the opposite direction. U. S. Route No. 119 was surfaced with asphalt, and there was a slight ascending grade in the direction the truck was traveling. The road was almost straight with an unobstructed view for a distance of approximately two hundred twenty feet in front of the truck. The camp and entrance thereto were to the left of the truck. The truck driver attempted to make a left turn, intending to enter the road leading to Camp Logan, and when the front wheels of the vehicle had reached a point estimated to be from two to three feet from the edge of the hard surface of the road, the motorcycle on which Bragg and Sumler were riding struck the left side of the bumper of the truck. At the time the truck was struck, it was diagonally across the road, with sufficient space on the road and berm for motor vehicles to pass around the rear end. The testimony of Adams and Brown is to the effect that the motorcycle on which Bragg and Sumler were riding, was moving at a speed of sixty to seventy miles per hour at the time of the collision; that the oper- ator of the motorcycle should have seen the truck at a point approximately two hundred feet away; that the truck was not moving at the time of the collision; and that Bragg could and should have seen that the truck obstructed the road. Bragg and Sumler testified that they were moving at a rate of speed between thirty-five and forty miles per hour; that the truck, when they first saw it, was on the proper side of the highway; that when they came within thirty feet of the point of collision the truck suddenly and without warning turned in front of them, and that the motorcycle could not be stopped to prevent the collision. Adams and Brown also testified that a motor vehicle passed them, going in the opposite direction, immediately before the collision. This is denied by Bragg and Sumler. The motorcycle struck the truck, causing damage to both vehicles. Sumler was thrown approximately fifty feet; Bragg fell under his vehicle, and suffered injuries which necessitated amputation of one of his limbs above the knee, broke the fingers of his left hand, one of which was later amputated, and fractured three ribs.

A jury resolved the conflict in the evidence in favor of the plaintiff, and returned a verdict in the amount of twenty-one thousand, five hundred dollars.

After the return of the verdict, it was brought to the attention of the trial court that evidence had been adduced that plaintiff had incurred expenses for hospital and medical services amounting to $929.90, but there was no evidence as to the necessity and reasonableness of that amount. Plaintiff then offered a written remittitur in the amount of $929.90, the filing of which being allowed, judgment in the sum of $20,570.10 was rendered on the verdict.

The defendant assigns as error the admission over objection of certain testimony on behalf of plaintiff, and the action of the trial court in giving, at the request of the plaintiff, two instructions numbered 6 and 7.

Three witnesses were interrogated relative to questions asked them by a person acting in behalf of the de- fendant. All of these witnesses were subpoenaed for the plaintiff, and one was also subpoenaed on behalf of the defendant. The record does not disclose the purpose or pertinency of the interrogation. No error is perceived in the trial court's rulings on the questions and answers elicited thereby. However, it is not amiss to observe that counsel should refrain from asking questions which may give rise to an inference of improper conduct, unless such questions have a factual basis, and are pursued by further questions predicated thereon.

Exception is taken to the ruling of the trial court in admitting the testimony of a witness relative to the location of skid marks at the scene of the accident. The witness did not see the collision and the vehicles had been removed before he arrived at the place where the accident occurred. Defendant contends that the witness in his answer attempted to give the location of the front wheels of the truck and motorcycle. This contention is not supported by the record. It is apparent from the context of the questions and answers that the location of the skid marks rather than the wheels of the vehicles was the subject matter of the inauirv, as well as the testimony. The assignment lacks merit.

The defendant Adams, while testifying as a witness, was asked whether he had left home in order to avoid service of process, and answered that he had not left his home for that reason. This testimony was admitted over objection of counsel for the other defendant, and the ruling of the trial court is now assigned as error. Adams' answer did not prejudice defendant, being in the negative. But it is argued that merely asking the question may have created the impression that Adams was attempting to avoid service of the writ, thereby admitting his fault in causing the accident. The reasons given in support of this assignment of error are too tenuous to merit serious consideration.

Defendant strenuously objects to plaintiff's instruction No. 6 on the grounds that it contains abstract statements of law; that it fails to inform the jury that the negli- gence of the defendant must be the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury; and that the defense of contributory negligence is ignored. Plaintiff's instruction No. 6 is as follows:

"The Court instructs the Jury that it is the duty of an operator of a motor vehicle intending to turn his vehicle to the left to look out for oncoming traffic and see that the road in front is clear and to give signal by extending his left arm in a horizontal position and slowing down, and if you believe from all the evidence in this case Jewel Adams, driver of the truck mentioned in the evidence owned by the C. I. Whitten Transfer Company, carelessly and negligently turned said truck to the left across the highway at the time and place mentioned in the evidence without giving such signal or warning and that the plaintiff, Denver Bragg, traveling on his motorcycle meeting said truck was too close to stop and avoid the accident, then this would be negligence on the part of the defendant and you should find a verdict for the plaintiff at such sum as you believe him entitled to from all the evidence if you believe the plaintiff himself without negligence, not exceeding seventy-five thousand dollars ($75,000.00), the amount sued for in his declaration".

The part of instruction No. 6 which purports to define the duties of the operator of a motor vehicle ineptly and partially states an abstract principle of law which should have been concretely specified. In order to fully define the duties of such operator, the element of distance should have been incorporated therein. Burdette v. Henson, 96 W. Va. 31, 122 S. E. 356, 37 A. L. R. 489.

It will be observed that the instruction fails to tell the jury that it must find that defendant's negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. This omission, after objection, is reversible error. Miller v. Douglas, 121 W. Va. 638, 5 S. E. 2d 799. The omission so made was not called to the...

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    ...88 S.E. 659, 661. The remittitur may be employed where the amount of the excess is definitely ascertainable. Bragg v. C. I. Whitten Transfer Co., 125 W.Va. 722, 26 S.E.2d 217; O'Dell v. Criss & Shaver, 123 W.Va. 290, 14 S.E.2d 767; McCallam v. Hope Natural Gas Co., 93 W.Va. 426, 117 S.E. 14......
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