Clark v. Strain et al

Citation212 Or. 357,319 P.2d 940
PartiesCLARK <I>v.</I> STRAIN ET AL
Decision Date08 January 1958
CourtSupreme Court of Oregon

Action for injuries sustained in collision between a pickup truck driven by plaintiff and a log truck owned and driven by defendants. From an order of the Circuit Court, Grant County, E.H. Howell, J., granting defendants a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the plaintiff appealed. The Supreme Court, Warner, J., held that where nine jurors voted for liability of defendant but not same nine jurors voted for damages in amount of $10,000, verdict returned in favor of plaintiff for $10,000 was invalid.

Judgment reversed and case remanded for a new trial.

Judgment — Trial — Directing verdict — Judgment notwithstanding verdict — Evidence viewed

1. When directing a verdict or granting a judgment for defendant notwithstanding verdict for plaintiff, evidence must be viewed in light most favorable to plaintiff.

Negligence — Contributory — Question of law — Question of fact

2. Contributory negligence becomes a question of law only when from the facts reasonable men can draw but one inference and that inference points unerringly to negligence of plaintiff contributing to injury, and in all other cases question of contributory negligence is one of fact for jury.

Trial — Verdict — Civil case — Eight jurors

3. A verdict in a civil case supported by only eight jurors is invalid. Const. art. 7, § 5; ORS 17.355(1).

Trial — General verdict

4. A general verdict is a pronouncement on all issues and establishes every reasonable inference deductible from the pleadings and responsive to the issues. ORS 17.405.

Trial — Tendered general verdict — Legal verdict

5. Tendered general verdict should be a document reflecting integration of minds of jurors to such extent that it, in fact, constitutes a legal verdict. ORS 17.405.

Trial — Minimum legal number of jurors — Valid verdict

6. Minimum legal number of jurors required for a valid verdict must be the same jurors voting similarly on each separate issue demanding resolution.

Trial — Verdict invalid

7. Where nine jurors voted for liability of defendant but not same nine jurors voted for damages in amount of $10,000, verdict returned in favor of plaintiff for $10,000 was invalid. Const. art. 7, § 5; ORS 17.355(1), 17.405.

                  See concurrence by less than all jurors in verdict
                  53 Am Jur, Trial § 1032
                  155 ALR 586
                  89 CJS, Trial § 494
                

Appeal from Circuit Court, Grant County.

E.H. HOWELL, Judge.

Roy Kilpatrick, Canyon City, argued the cause and filed briefs for appellant.

Walter J. Cosgrave, Portland, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Maguire, Shields, Morrison & Bailey, Portland, and Orval D. Yokom, John Day.

Before PERRY, Chief Justice, and ROSSMAN, BRAND, WARNER and McALLISTER, Justices.

REVERSED.

WARNER, J.

This is an appeal in an action resulting from a collision occurring in Grant County between a jeep pickup driven by the plaintiff, Clark, and a loaded log truck owned by the defendant Strain and driven by the defendant Hayes. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $10,000. From an order granting defendants a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the plaintiff appeals.

The trial court gave as justification for its ruling "that the plaintiff by his own testimony shows he was contributorily negligent as a matter of law by driving at excessive speed, lack of control and defective brakes."

1. When directing a verdict or giving a judgment n.o.v., the evidence must be viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Martin v. Harrison, 182 Or 121, 137, 180 P2d 119, 186 P2d 534; Edvalson v Swick, 190 Or 473, 480, 227 P2d 183; Shelton v. Lowell, 196 Or 430, 435, 249 P2d 958.

2. Courts are seldom confronted with a record of fact justifying a holding that a plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law. This is due in large measure to recognition of the elementary principle "that contributory negligence becomes a question of law when, and only when, from the facts, reasonable men can draw but one inference and that inference points unerringly to the negligence of plaintiff contributing to the injury. In all other cases the question of contributory negligence is one of fact for the jury." (Emphasis ours.) Martin v. Harrison, supra (182 Or 137); Fox v. Royce, 194 Or 419, 425, 242 P2d 190; Whisler v. U.S. Nat. Bank of Portland, 160 Or 10, 16, 82 P2d 1079.

Our examination of the facts respecting the plaintiff's speed, control and brakes does not unerringly point to negligence on the part of plaintiff and therefore these issues were properly determinable by the jury.

3. In the ordinary course, the foregoing conclusion would dictate a reinstatement of the judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Here, however, we are confronted with a record revealing a unique and unusual circumstance which we cannot judicially ignore. To do otherwise would produce an anomalous situation, abhorrent to all concepts of justice, i.e., a judgment resting upon an obviously unconstitutional verdict in that it was supported by only eight jurors. Such a verdict is not only contrary to the express provisions of Art VII, § 5 of the Oregon Constitution, but also to ORS 17.355 (1), both of which require a minimum of three-fourths of the jury (or nine jurors) in civil cases.

The record shows that when the jury returned to make its report, the foreman advised that they had reached a verdict. It was thereupon handed to the court and read to the jury. It revealed that they had found "in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant in the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars." After this, the following proceedings were had:

                    The court:  Ladies and gentlemen, is this your
                                verdict?
                    Jurors:     Yes.
                    The court:  Have nine or more concurred? (Some of the
                                jurors answered or nodded in the
                                affirmative.)
                

The court, upon request of counsel for the defendants, then polled the jury. Of the first eight jurors interrogated, five answered "Yes" and three "No." Juror Chapman was ninth in the order of inquiry:

                    The court:    Mrs. Chapman?
                    Mrs. Chapman: May I ask a question?
                    The court:    Yes.
                    Mrs. Chapman: It is "yes" but not to the extent of
                                  damages.
                

The polling of the remaining three jurors was then continued and the court received three more affirmative replies, whereupon the following transpired:

                    The court:      You have an 8 to 4 verdict. You do
                                    not have nine concurring. As I told
                                    you before, you have to have nine
                                    concur in this verdict; so I am going
                                    to send you back for further
                                    deliberations, I will give you back
                                    this form —
                    A juror:        We had nine.
                    Another juror:  We had nine in there.
                    The court:      Wait a minute. Maybe I am confused. I
                                    thought that —
                

The judge again interrogated five of the jurors, other than Mrs. Chapman, each of whom reaffirmed their previous votes on the verdict. There then ensued this colloquy between the court and Mrs. Chapman:

                    "The Court:   That is three Noes. And you told me —
                    Mrs. Chapman: I said `Yes' it was my verdict for the
                                  plaintiff; but then we voted on how
                                  much damages —
                    The Court:    But you did not concur in the amount.
                                  Is that correct?
                    Mrs. Chapman: There was still 9 to 3 on the amount.
                    The Court:    You have a 9 to 3 verdict on the
                                  amount?
                    Mrs. Chapman: Yes.
                    The Court:    Did you concur on the amount?
                    Mrs. Chapman: I said `No' on the amount, but there
                                  was still 9 to 3 on it.
                    The Court:    No; that is not right. I want a 9 to 3
                                  concurrence in this verdict for the
                                  plaintiff and in the amount, if that is
                                  what you intend. There are two things
                                  involved, — for the plaintiff or
                                  for the defendants; and if for the
                                  plaintiff, a 9 to 3 concurrence on the
                                  amount also; so I will send you back —
                    Mrs. Chapman: There was 9 to 3 on the amount.
                    The Court:    Well, do you concur then on the amount?
                    Mrs. Chapman: Somebody else was for the amount, but
                                  the amount was for a certain amount.
                    The Court:    Well, let me ask you — Is this your
                                  verdict that I just read?
                    Mrs. Chapman: It is my verdict, yes, for the
                                  plaintiff. My verdict was `no' for the
                
                                  plaintiff. — Now you are confusing me.
                                  But I didn't think he should be
                                  awarded that amount. We voted separate.
                                  Do you see what I mean?
                    The Court:    As I told you, you have got to concur,
                                  if you are voting for the plaintiff,
                                  also have a 9 to 3 verdict in the
                                  amount.
                    Mrs. Chapman: We did have. Somebody else —
                    The Court:    Now, do you —
                    Mrs. Hunt:    We did have. Somebody else changed
                                  their vote then.
                    The Court:    Do you, yourself — Is this your
                                  verdict?
                    Mrs. Chapman: Yes.
                    The Court:    Are you sure of that, now?
                    Mrs. Chapman: It is my verdict for the — Yes, it is
                                  my verdict. What I am trying to get at,
                                  we made a separate vote for the amount
                                  of money they were to get.
                    The Court:    Did you have a 9 to 3 verdict both for
                                  the plaintiff and for this amount of
                                  $10,000.00?
                    Mrs. Chapman: Yes, we did.
                    The Court:    And this verdict that I read is your
                                  verdict also; is that correct?
                    Mrs. Chapman: Yes.
                    The Court:    All right; it is 9 to 3. Do you agree
...

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