Covington v. Carley, 35700.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Decision Date27 November 1944
Docket Number35700.
PartiesCOVINGTON et al. v. CARLEY.

19 So.2d 817

197 Miss. 535

COVINGTON et al.
v.
CARLEY.

No. 35700.

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 27, 1944


Hannah, Simrall & Foote, of Hattiesburg, Harmon Young, of New Augusta, and Heidelberg & Roberts, of Hattiesburg, for appellants.

E. B. Cooper, of Laurel, and Currie & Currie, of Hattiesburg, for appellee.

ALEXANDER, Justice.

Plaintiff, who is appellee here, brought suit and recovered judgment for personal injuries suffered when an automobile driven by the defendant, Mrs. Covington, left the highway and struck a culvert. It is alleged that the driver of the car was guilty of wanton misconduct in momentarily falling asleep at the wheel. S. B. Carey, father of Mrs. Covington, was joined as a defendant upon the theory of agency.

The injury occurred in Alabama, and the law applicable to the case is found [19 So.2d 818] in Alabama Code 1940, Section 95 of Title 36. The statute is as follows: "The owner, operator or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle shall not be liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or death of a guest while being transported without payment therefor in or upon said motor vehicle, resulting from the operation thereof, unless such injuries or death are caused by the willful or wanton misconduct of such operator, owner or person responsible for the operation of said motor vehicle."

It being agreed that there was no wilful misconduct, our inquiry is directed solely to the question whether "wanton misconduct" was sufficiently shown to withstand the request of defendants for a peremptory instruction. If decided adversely to plaintiff's contention, other assignments of error become irrelevant.

Guest statutes of the general tenor of the Alabama act have been enacted in a number of states. Their language is not identical. Some include "gross negligence" or "reckless disregard of the rights of others", or "gross or wanton negligence." We confine discussion to those cases involving the language of the Alabama law. We could not profitably pursue definitions involving other terms, for we are not here dealing with a negligence statute. Nor are we to apply our own decisions in our solution except in so far as they may be helpful in resolving ambiguity. The purpose of the Alabama guest statute is to deny recovery to a certain class, to wit, nonpaying guests, as against the operator of a motor vehicle. Any reference therein denying immunity to those guilty of wilful or wanton misconduct must, therefore, be viewed as an exception, and a guest is limited to rights arising out of such misconduct. Crabb v. Shanks, 226 Iowa 589, 284 N.W. 446.

It is the purpose of such statutes to deny to a guest any right to sue for mere negligence. Nor is gross negligence enough unless the statute so provides. It is of interest to notice that some states, notably California, which formerly included gross negligence, have eliminated such basis and restricted liability to wilful and wanton misconduct. In construing the latter phrase, the courts of that state have held that an intent is implied and that such intent relates to misconduct and not merely to the fact that some act was intentionally done. Halter v. Malone, 11 Cal.App.2d 79, 53 P.2d 374.

As stated, the Alabama statute is not conceived as one penalizing negligence as such. Indeed, negligence and wilfulness or wantonness are incompatible terms. Gallegher v. Davis, 7 W.W.Harr., Del., 380, 183 A. 620; Law v. Gallegher, 9 W.W.Harr., Del., 189, 197 A. 479; Biddle v. Boyd, 9 W.W.Harr., Del., 346, 199 A. 479; Robb v. Ramey Associates, Inc., 1 Terry, Del. 520, 14 A.2d 394. Otherwise expressed, wantonness is a failure or refusal to exercise any care, while negligence is a failure to exercise due care. Mackey v. Robertson, 328 Pa. 504, 195 A. 870; Cousins v. Booksbaum, 51 Ohio App. 150, 200 N.E. 133.

The applicable statute has been construed by the Alabama Court in Smith v. Roland, 243 Ala. 400, 10 So.2d 367, 369. In holding the evidence insufficient to take to the jury the question of a truck driver's wanton misconduct involving a collision whereby plaintiff as a guest was injured, it stated "'Gross negligence' is negligence, not wantonness. Before one can be convicted of wantonness, the facts must show that he was conscious of his conduct and conscious from his knowledge of existing conditions that injury would likely or probably result from his conduct, that with reckless indifference to consequences, he consciously and intentionally did some wrongful act or omitted some known duty which produced the injury." See also Couch v. Hutcherson, 243 Ala. 47, 8 So.2d 580, 141 A.L.R. 697. This is the same Court which had held in Whiddon v. Malone, 220 Ala. 220, 124 So. 516, that falling asleep at the wheel is prima facie evidence of negligence.

In the statute "wilful" and "wanton" are of equal gravity and are of equal legal import, Surgan v. Parker, La.App., 181 So. 86. Where the misconduct is wilful, there is an intentional injury. If it is wanton, there is an intentional and wrongful act or omission whose resultant harm is consciously previsioned and recklessly ignored or disregarded. For one to be recklessly indifferent to results, such results must be presented to a sensible awareness of their reasonable certainty. One may not ignore an eventuality which he does not perceive. If he recks not of impending harm, it is not because he knows not of it but because he cares not. [19 So.2d 819]

Indifference shuts its eyes to that which just before had been visible.

Hence wantonness characterizes a mental state aware of misconduct and indifferent to its obvious consequences. Weir v. Lukes, 13 Cal.App.2d 312, 56 P.2d 987. More than this it is projected forward to and qualifies the ultimate injury, lending to it color of a gross and unconcerned willingness which, in its moral and legal aspects, is indistinguishable from intent. Thus the original act retains a status as an important but subordinate incident. Vessel v. Seaboard Air...

To continue reading

Request your trial
14 practice notes
  • Mitchell v. Craft, No. 44895
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 10, 1968
    ...& N.E.R.R. Co. v. Scogin, 243 Miss. 1, 137 So.2d 539 (1962); Wright v. Jacobs, 228 Miss. 641, 89 So.2d 708 (1956); Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 19 So.2d 817 (1944); Montgomery & Atlanta Motor Freight Lines, Inc. v. Morris, 193 Miss. 211, 7 So.2d 826, suggestion of error overruled, 19......
  • Browning v. Shackelford, No. 44255
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • March 13, 1967
    ...The distinction between the concepts of 'gross negligence' and 'wantonness' was clearly outlined by this Court in Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 541-542, 19 So.2d 817, 818 (1944), where, in an interpretation of the Alabama automobile guest statute, we Guest statutes of the general teno......
  • Lankford v. Mong, 7 Div. 707
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • September 12, 1968
    ...489, 62 N.E.2d 36. One of the cases relied upon by appellant for reversal of the judgment here under review is Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 19 So.2d 817, where the accident occurred in Alabama but the suit was filed in Mississippi. The Mississippi court was called upon in that case t......
  • City of Jackson v. Powell, No. 2003-CA-01013-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 10, 2005
    ...due care.' Turner, 735 So.2d at 229 (citing Beta Beta Chapter v. May, 611 So.2d 889, 895 (Miss.1992)) (quoting Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 541-42, 19 So.2d 817, 818 Maldonado v. Kelly, 768 So.2d 906, 909-10 (Miss.2000). In Collins v. Tallahatchie County, 876 So.2d 284, 287 (Miss.200......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Mitchell v. Craft, No. 44895
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 10, 1968
    ...& N.E.R.R. Co. v. Scogin, 243 Miss. 1, 137 So.2d 539 (1962); Wright v. Jacobs, 228 Miss. 641, 89 So.2d 708 (1956); Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 19 So.2d 817 (1944); Montgomery & Atlanta Motor Freight Lines, Inc. v. Morris, 193 Miss. 211, 7 So.2d 826, suggestion of error overruled, 19......
  • Browning v. Shackelford, No. 44255
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • March 13, 1967
    ...The distinction between the concepts of 'gross negligence' and 'wantonness' was clearly outlined by this Court in Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 541-542, 19 So.2d 817, 818 (1944), where, in an interpretation of the Alabama automobile guest statute, we Guest statutes of the general teno......
  • Lankford v. Mong, 7 Div. 707
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • September 12, 1968
    ...489, 62 N.E.2d 36. One of the cases relied upon by appellant for reversal of the judgment here under review is Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 19 So.2d 817, where the accident occurred in Alabama but the suit was filed in Mississippi. The Mississippi court was called upon in that case t......
  • City of Jackson v. Powell, No. 2003-CA-01013-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 10, 2005
    ...due care.' Turner, 735 So.2d at 229 (citing Beta Beta Chapter v. May, 611 So.2d 889, 895 (Miss.1992)) (quoting Covington v. Carley, 197 Miss. 535, 541-42, 19 So.2d 817, 818 Maldonado v. Kelly, 768 So.2d 906, 909-10 (Miss.2000). In Collins v. Tallahatchie County, 876 So.2d 284, 287 (Miss.200......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT