Brennan v. Same

Decision Date07 November 1934
Citation192 N.E. 835,288 Mass. 311
PartiesBRENNAN v. SCHUSTER. WALSH v. SAME.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Exceptions from Superior Court, Worcester County; W. A. Burns, Judge.

Separate actions of tort by William B. Brennan and Francis X. Walsh against Winfield Schuster, which were heard together in the superior court by the judge without a jury, who found for the plaintiffs, respectively, in the sums of $750 and $500. On exceptions, saved by the defendant.

Exceptions sustained, and judgment for the defendant in each case.

F. D. Mullins, of Worcester, for plaintiffs.

C. C. Milton and R. C. Milton, both of Worcester, for defendant.

LUMMUS, Justice.

The plaintiffs and one Kelley were seniors at Holy Cross College. The plaintiffs knew that Kelley's automobile was registered in New York, where he had his domicil, and not in Massachusetts where to their knowledge he had lived in a college dormitory from September, 1929, until the time of the injury in question on May 6, 1930. The plaintiffs were hurt in a collision between the automobile owned and driven by Kelley, in which the plaintiffs were riding as guests, and one operated by the defendant. The trial judge, sitting without a jury, found that the collision was caused by the combined negligence of both operators. The plaintiffs were free from contributory negligence. The only question is, whether the lack of registration in Massachusetts bars them from recovery.

G. L. c. 90, § 1, in effect at the time of the injury, defined a nonresident, as ‘any resident of any state or country who has no regular place of abode or business in the commonwealth for a period of more than thirty days in the year.’ The more recent definition established by St. 1931, c. 142, § 1 (G. L. [Ter. Ed.] c. 90, § 1), is not material. Within the controlling definition, Kelley was not a nonresident. His automobile could not lawfully be operated under G. L. c. 90, § 10, by virtue of a New York registration, but registration in Massachusetts was required. Hanson v. Culton, 269 Mass. 471, 169 N. E. 272;Avila v. DuPont, 278 Mass. 83, 180 N. E. 124. See, also, Jenkins v. North Shore Dye House, Inc., 277 Mass. 440, 178 N. E. 644;Bellenger v. Monahan, 282 Mass. 523, 185 N. E. 346. Until the enactment of St. 1915, c. 87 (G. L. c. 90, § 9), a guest riding in an unregistered or improperly registered automobile was as completely barred from recovery against a stranger causing injury by negligence as was the owner and operator himself. Feeley v. Melrose, 205 Mass. 329, 91 N. E. 306,27 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1156, 137 Am. St. Rep. 445;Conroy v. Mather, 217 Mass. 91, 94, 104 N. E. 487,52 L. R. A. (N. S.) 801;Balian v. Ogassin, 277 Mass. 525, 179 N. E. 232, 78 A. L. R. 1021. Unless the plaintiffs come within the protection of G. L. c. 90, § 9, the want of registration in Massachusetts is fatal to their cases.

The statute (G. L. c. 90, § 9; now G. L. [Ter. Ed.] c. 90, § 9) provides that the operation of an unregistered automobile, forbidden by the section cited, ‘shall not constitute a defence to actions of tort for injuries suffered by a person’ not the owner or operator, unless it is shown that he ‘knew or had reasonable cause to know that this section was being violated.’ In the present case it appears clearly that the plaintiffs knew all the facts from which flowed the legal conclusion that the operation of the automobile was a violation of the section cited. There is no finding that the plaintiffs knew that such was the legal conclusion, and the general finding for the plaintiffs imports a finding that the defendant had failed to show that the plaintiffs either knew or had reasonable cause to know the legal conclusion. If the judge, in the face of the plaintiffs' knowledge of all the material facts, nevertheless could find that they had no reasonable cause to know the legal conclusion, his general finding for the plaintiffs must stand. The question whether he could so find is properly raised by the defendant's exception to the refusal of his requested ruling that the plaintiffs could not recover, since the judge required no specification of the grounds of that request. Anderson v. Beacon Oil Co., 281 Mass. 108, 111, 183 N. E. 152, and cases cited. Therefore the decisive question is, whether one who knows all the facts can be found to have no reasonable cause to know the unescapable legal conclusion.

In a certain popular sense, one may be said to lack reasonable cause to know the law applicable to known facts. The ordinary man does not know and cannot know legal principles and consequences as to which the most learned jurists are troubled and sometimes disagree. Yet there are serious practical difficulties in submitting to a jury or other tribunal of fact the question whether one who knows all the facts may have reasonable cause not to know the law. We must assume that the Legislature, in enacting the statute of 1915, now contained in the section cited, had in mind that it would have to be applied in trials, before judge and jury, under the rules governing such trials. Under those rules, the judge must define the words ‘reasonable cause to know,’ and must withdraw the question from consideration by the jury if reasonable cause to know the unlawfulness of the operation of the automobile has been shown by incontrovertible facts.

If the view should be entertained that one who knows all the facts may reasonably be ignorant of the legal result, one of two standards would have to be set up. The standard might be internal, depending upon the intelligence, education, information and memory of the individual, and requiring the jury to try his qualities of mind and decide whether according to his lights he had reasonable cause to know the law. Such an inquiry would depart from most of the analogies in the law. Labrecque v. Donham, 236 Mass. 10, 127 N. E. 537; Holmes, Common Law, 108 et seq. The other possible standard is external, requiring the jury to create for themselves a mental image of a man of ordinary legal knowledge, with no more than a reasonable amount of ignorance of law, and then to inquire whether, in view of the knowledge of the facts possessed by the individual whose state of mind is being tried, the standard or ordinary mad in the same situation would have reasonable cause to know the law. Not only would the jury be obliged to apply that standard to the facts found, but in clear cases the judge would have to enforce that standard by withdrawing the case from the jury. Difficult as it is to apply the standard of the reasonably prudent man in cases of alleged negligence, it would be still more difficult to set up the standard of the man reasonably well-informed upon legal matters, the man of no more than reasonable ignorance of law. This case is not like an action against an attorney for negligence, in which a standard of reasonable professional knowledge has to be set up. Montriou v. Jefferys, 2 C. & P. 113. Holman v. King, 7 Metc. 384; Caverly v. McOwen, 123 Mass. 574. For general use in the law, neither of the suggestedstandards would be practical. We do not believe that the Legislature intended to make either of them the test. We think that the knowledge that is material is knowledge of the facts, and that one who...

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12 cases
  • Rummel v. Peters
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • September 13, 1943
    ...for she knew all the facts relative to the legality of the operation of the motor vehicle in which she was riding. Brennan v. Schuster, 288 Mass. 311, 192 N.E. 835. The statute permitting the operation on the ways of this Commonwealth of a motor vehicle owned by a nonresident and registered......
  • Commonwealth v. Welansky
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1944
    ...39 S.Ct. 553, 63 L.Ed. 1058, 6 A.L.R. 1537; Am. Law Inst. Restatement: Torts, § 500, and also comments c and f. See also Brennan v. Schuster, 288 Mass. 311, 192 N.E. 835. The judge charged the jury correctly when he said, ‘To constitute wanton or reckless conduct, as distinguished from mere......
  • Commonwealth v. Welansky
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1944
    ...Liability Cases, 250 U.S. 400, 432. Am. Law Inst. Restatement: Torts, Section 500, and also comments c and f. See also Brennan v. Schuster, 288 Mass. 311 . judge charged the jury correctly when he said, "To constitute wanton or reckless conduct, as distinguished from mere negligence, grave ......
  • Rummel v. Peters
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • September 13, 1943
    ...section, for she knew all the facts relative to the legality of the operation of the motor vehicle in which she was riding. Brennan v. Schuster, 288 Mass. 311 The statute permitting the operation on the ways of this Commonwealth of a motor vehicle owned by a nonresident and registered elsew......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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