Coburn v. American Liberty Ins. Co.

Decision Date14 January 1977
Citation341 So.2d 717
PartiesAda COBURN and Louis Coburn v. AMERICAN LIBERTY INSURANCE COMPANY, a corporation, et al. SC 1864.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Robert W. Walker of Walker & Musgrove, Florence, for appellants.

Robert L. Gonce of O'Bannon & Gonce, Florence, for appellee, American Liberty Ins. Co.

JONES, Justice.

This appeal, from defendants' judgments in consolidated personal injury suits, challenges two adverse rulings by the trial Judge:

1. The granting of motions for a directed verdict on behalf of two of the three defendants; and

2. The overruling of plaintiffs' motion to amend the pre-trial order to dissolve the severance of the issues of liability and damages previously ordered pursuant to Rule 42(b), ARCP. We find no error as to either ruling; therefore, we affirm.

Louis and Ada Coburn sued Martin Supply Company, Johnny Willis, an employee of Martin, and the American Liberty Insurance Company. Mrs. Coburn's suit was based on personal injuries, and Mr. Coburn's suit was for loss of consortium. The Coburns charged Martin Supply and Willis with negligence for allegedly running a stop sign and American Liberty for coverage under an uninsured motorist policy.

The Coburns allege that Ada was a passenger in her automobile going west following another car, the driver of which is still unknown. This unknown driver either stopped or suddenly decreased his speed, causing the driver of the Coburn car to swerve into the eastbound lane to avoid collision. Consequently, a Martin Supply Company truck, driven by Willis, collided with the Coburn car. Because the Coburns could never determine the owner of the car in front, they sued their own insurer, American Liberty Insurance Company, under their uninsured motorist clause.

Following several pre-trial conferences, and because of the multiplicity of the parties and issues, the trial Judge, pursuant to Rule 42(b), ordered a severance of the issues of liability and damages--the question of liability as to all three defendants to be tried first. At the close of the evidence, the trial Judge granted a motion for a directed verdict in favor of Martin Supply and Willis.

After this motion was granted, the Coburns asked the trial Judge to strike his pre-trial severance order and allow them to prove damages in their case against American Liberty. The Court overruled their motion and sent the case to the jury on the question of liability only. The jury returned a verdict in favor of American Liberty.

The Directed Verdict Issue

Counsel for the Coburns, in support of his contention that the trial Court erred in directing verdicts for Martin and Willis, 'admits that evidence against these Defendants (Martin and Willis) was weak.' He contends, however, that, 'in light of the Alabama Scintilla Rule, a jury question was made against these Defendants'; and he directs our attention specifically to Mrs. Coburn's testimony.

We have carefully studied all of the evidence touching the plaintiff's claim of negligence on behalf of Martin Supply and Willis. The most favorable testimony, from which any possible inference of liability against these two defendants can be drawn, is that of Mrs. Coburn. The strongest tendencies of her testimony is to the effect that she saw the Martin Supply Truck approaching (from her left, traveling north) Highway 157 and County Line Road intersection; that Highway 157, on which she was traveling west, is a thoroughfare, guarded by a stop sign on County Line Road; that she does not remember whether the Martin Supply truck stopped before turning right (east) on Highway 157, and that, although she didn't see the truck turn, she saw it coming (traveling east) from the intersection.

In light of the uncontradicted evidence that the Coburn car, in an effort to avoid collision with the vehicle to its front, skidded suddenly across the center line into the immediate path of the Martin Supply truck, we agree with the trial Judge that motions for directed verdicts on behalf of Martin and Willis were due to be granted. Whether tested by the substantial evidence rule or the scintilla evidence rule, the record reveals no evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer that Mrs. Coburn's injuries were proximately caused by the...

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20 cases
  • Central Alabama Elec. Co-op. v. Tapley
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 12 d5 Maio d5 1989
    ...the trial, and we will not hold the trial court in error for not bifurcating the trial on its own motion. See Coburn v. American Liberty Ins. Co., 341 So.2d 717 (Ala.1977); A.R.Civ.P. The second procedural due process issue raised by CAEC is the failure of the trial court to charge the jury......
  • Bonds v. Brown
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 9 d5 Março d5 1979
    ...strongest tendencies of all the evidence fall short of raising a reasonable inference of the movant's liability. Coburn v. American Liberty Ins. Co., 341 So.2d 717 (Ala.1977); Alabama Power Co. v. Taylor, 293 Ala. 484, 306 So.2d 236 (Ala.1975). If, at the close of all the plaintiff's eviden......
  • Clark v. Black
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 27 d5 Agosto d5 1993
    ...tests the sufficiency of the evidence on a material factual issue by moving for a directed verdict on that issue. Coburn v. American Liberty Ins. Co., 341 So.2d 717 (Ala.1977). "In a doubtful case the court may prefer to deny the motion for a directed verdict, [choosing, instead, to conside......
  • Fox v. Bartholf
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 24 d5 Agosto d5 1979
    ...of § 32-5-91, there was no evidence the statutory violation proximately caused appellant's injury. See Coburn v. American Liberty Insurance Co., 341 So.2d 717 (Ala.1977). Without question, the car in which appellant rode first hit the trailer from the rear and then crossed the centerline in......
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