Crider v. Sneider

Citation243 Ga. 642,256 S.E.2d 335
Decision Date29 May 1979
Docket NumberNo. 34617,34617
PartiesCRIDER v. SNEIDER.
CourtSupreme Court of Georgia

Van Gerpen, Bovis, Kyle & Burch, E. J. Van Gerpen, Atlanta, George N. Skene, Macon, for appellant.

Westmoreland, Hall, McGee, Warner & Oxford, John L. Westmoreland, Jr., J. M. Crawford, Atlanta, for appellee.

MARSHALL, Justice.

We granted certiorari in this case to address questions concerning application of CPA § 35(a) (Code Ann. § 81A-135(a); Ga.L.1966, pp. 609, 647; 1972, pp. 510, 527) and the guest passenger rule.

The plaintiff-appellant-respondent in certiorari brought this wrongful-death action in the Bleckley Superior Court against the defendant-appellee-applicant for certiorari. These are the facts giving rise to the dispute: The plaintiff's 18-year-old daughter and the defendant had come from Valdosta to Atlanta for a weekend visit at the plaintiff's home. The automobile in which they drove was purchased by the plaintiff, and he furnished his automobile to his deceased daughter for her use in going to work and college. The decedent had contracted the flu, and on the return leg of the decedent's and the defendant's journey back to Valdosta, the plaintiff requested the defendant to drive if his daughter became unable to "make it." The decedent and the defendant stopped to get a hamburger at a restaurant in the vicinity of Macon, and, at the decedent's request, the defendant then took the wheel. On Interstate 75 South near Ashburn, Georgia, the automobile in which they were driving left the southbound lane of the highway, crossed the median directly in front of the northbound traffic, and was struck by a vehicle going in the northward direction. The plaintiff's daughter was killed.

During the discovery stage of the trial, it was disclosed that the defendant could not remember the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident. His physician attributed this lapse of memory to a condition described as "traumatic amnesia." Pursuant to CPA § 35(a), the plaintiff filed a motion for a court order requiring the defendant to submit to a mental and physical examination. This motion was denied by the trial court. A motion in limine to suppress the defendant's proffered medical testimony concerning his "traumatic amnesia" was also denied.

The trial court determined that the decedent was a guest passenger of the defendant at the time of the collision, which invokes the guest passenger rule requiring gross negligence to be proved before a recovery against the host for personal injuries to the guest is sanctioned. Bickford v. Nolen, 240 Ga. 255, 240 S.E.2d 24 (1977); Epps v. Parrish, 26 Ga.App. 399, 106 S.E. 297 (1921). The trial court so charged the jury.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, and judgment was entered thereon. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the plaintiff's CPA § 35(a) motion for a mental and physical examination of the defendant. In addition, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred in charging the jury on gross negligence, holding: "Under the circumstances of this case, we are firmly of the opinion that it was a jury issue as to whether the driver owed the duty of exercising ordinary care rather than . . . slight diligence."

We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the CPA § 35(a) motion for a physical and mental examination of the defendant. We also hold that, as a matter of law, the defendant did not become the decedent's host, within the meaning of the guest passenger rule, merely by assuming the driving responsibilities. We, therefore, reverse.

1. CPA § 35(a) provides that: "When the mental or physical condition (including the blood group) of a party, or of a person in the custody or under the legal control of a party, is in controversy, the court in which the action is pending may order the party to submit to a physical or mental examination by a physician or to produce for examination the person in his custody or legal control. The order may be made only on motion for good cause shown and upon notice to the person to be examined and to all parties and shall specify the time, place, manner, conditions, and scope of the examination and the person or persons by whom it is to be made."

In this case, the trial court ruled that the condition sought to be explored was not a "main issue in controversy," and that there was an inadequate showing that the facts and circumstances of the collision could not be established by other sources of evidence. Accordingly, the trial court denied the motion.

As recognized by the trial court and the Court of Appeals, the grant or denial of a CPA § 35(a) motion for mental and physical examination rests in the sound discretion of the trial court. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Lehmann, 125 Ga.App. 539, 188 S.E.2d 393 (1972). See also Bradford v. Parrish, 111 Ga.App. 167, 141 S.E.2d 125 (1965). In Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104, 85 S.Ct. 234, 13 L.Ed.2d 152 (1964), the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in order to interpret the "in controversy" and "good cause" requirements of Fed.Rule of Civ.Proced. 35(a), the federal counterpart of the Georgia rule.

In Schlagenhauf, the defendant sought to invalidate Rule 35(a) insofar as it authorizes a plaintiff to require a defendant to undergo physical and mental examinations. The defendant argued that this would be an unconstitutional invasion of his right of privacy.

The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Rule 35(a) requires a "discriminating application by the (trial) judge" and that "(t)he 'good cause' and 'in controversy' requirements of Rule 35 make it very apparent that sweeping examinations of a party who has not affirmatively put into issue his own mental or physical condition are not to be automatically ordered merely because the person has been involved in an accident . . ." 379 U.S. at 121, 85 S.Ct. at 244.

Noting that Rule 26(b) imposes "relevancy" as the standard for determining the scope of discovery generally, the court held that the "in controversy" requirement, found only in Rule 35, and the "good cause" requirement, found only in Rules 34 and 35, require something more. The court specifically held that in determining whether good cause had been shown for ordering the requested mental and physical examination, "(t)he ability of the movant to obtain the desired information by other means is also relevant." 379 U.S. at 118, 85 S.Ct. at 243. Although stating that the requirements of Rule 35(a) are not generally met merely by allegations in the pleadings, the court did note several "situations where the pleadings alone are sufficient to meet these requirements. A plaintiff in a negligence action who asserts mental or physical injury (cit.), places that mental or physical injury clearly in controversy and provides the defendant with good cause for an examination to determine the existence and extent of such asserted injury. This is not only true as to a plaintiff, but applies equally to a defendant who asserts his mental or physical condition as a defense to a claim, such as, for example, where insanity is asserted as a defense to a divorce action. (Cits.)" 379 U.S. at 119, 85 S.Ct. at 243.

In this case, the defendant did not assert his mental or physical condition as a defense to the plaintiff's claim; that is, the defendant did not allege that he was not liable to the plaintiff because his traumatic amnesia prevented him from remembering the facts and circumstances of the accident. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the facts and circumstances of the collision could be established by other sources of evidence and, therefore, the plaintiff had not shown "good cause" for requiring the defendant to submit to the mental and physical examination.

2. As to the application of the guest passenger rule, the defendant states that this case presents a question of first impression in Georgia, namely, whether a person can be a guest passenger in an automobile owned by a member of his or her family. The plaintiff argues that his daughter was the bailee of the automobile, and, therefore, in relation to third persons such as the defendant, she stood in the position of the true owner. We agree with the plaintiff. Under the circumstances of this case, we find that the plaintiff father was the bailor of the automobile and the decedent daughter was the bailee. See Whitehill v. Strickland, 256 Cal.App. 837, 64 Cal.Rptr. 584 (1967); Degenstein v. Ehrman, 145 N.W.2d 493 (N.D.1966); Baldwin v. Hill, 315 F.2d 738 (6th Cir. 1963); Cf. Nash v. Reed, 81 Ga.App. 473, 59 S.E.2d 259 (1950). For purposes of application of the guest passenger rule, the bailee stands in the same place as the true owner with respect to third persons. Baldwin v. Hill, supra; Degenstein v. Ehrman, supra.

Thus, the question presented is whether the owner of an automobile becomes the guest passenger by reason of the fact that another occupant in the automobile assumes the driving.

Other courts have addressed this question and, "the majority of the decided cases hold that the owner of an automobile is not the guest of the driver while riding in his own car. Gledhill v. Connecticut Co., 121 Conn. 102, 183 A. 379 (1936); Lorch v. Eglin, 369 Pa. 314, 85 A.2d 841 (1952); Ahlgren v. Ahlgren, 152 Cal.App.2d 723, 313 P.2d 88 (1957); Naphtali v. Lafazan, 7 Misc.2d 1057, 165 N.Y.S.2d 395 (1957) affirmed ...

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9 cases
  • Coons v. Lawlor
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • 15 Octubre 1986
    ...the owner-passenger is the one who extends the hospitality to the driver by furnishing the automobile. See, e.g., Crider v. Sneider, 243 Ga. 642, 256 S.E.2d 335, 338 (1979); Summers v. Summers, 40 Ill.2d 338, 239 N.E.2d 795, 797-98 (1968); Degenstein v. Ehrman, 145 N.W.2d 493, 499 (N.D.1966......
  • Gen. Motors, LLC v. Buchanan
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 1 Junio 2022
    ...to make any inquiry into whether the proffered excuse constitutes ‘good cause’ " under OCGA § 51-12-1 (a) ); Crider v. Sneider , 243 Ga. 642, 645-646 (1), 256 S.E.2d 335 (1979) (no abuse of discretion where the trial court, in determining whether good cause had been shown for a mental and p......
  • Gen. Motors v. Buchanan
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 1 Junio 2022
    ...court fails to make any inquiry into whether the proffered excuse constitutes 'good cause'" under OCGA § 51-12-1 (a)); Crider v. Sneider, 243 Ga. 642, 645-646 (1) (256 S.E.2d 335) (1979) (no abuse of discretion where the trial court, in determining whether good cause had been shown for a me......
  • Coffey v. Moore
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 14 Julio 2006
    ...as a guest. A case that is more directly analogous to this case is the decision by the Supreme Court of Georgia in Crider v. Sneider, 243 Ga. 642, 256 S.E.2d 335 (1979): "[T]he question presented is whether the owner of an automobile becomes the guest passenger by reason of the fact that an......
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3 books & journal articles
  • Physical and mental examinations
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Guerrilla Discovery
    • 1 Abril 2022
    ...court order. Unlike 1 Even the right to examine a personal injury plaintiff should not be taken for granted. Consider Crider v. Sneider , 243 Ga. 642, 256 S.E.2d 335 (1979), a wrongful-death case arising from an auto accident; it featured a defendant who, during discovery, claimed that he c......
  • Physical and Mental Examinations
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Guerrilla Discovery - 2014 Contents
    • 5 Agosto 2014
    ...or physical examina- 1 Even the right to examine a personal injury plaintiff should not be taken for granted. Consider Crider v. Sneider, 243 Ga. 642, 256 S.E.2d 335 (1979), a wrongful-death case arising from an auto accident; it featured a defendant who, during discovery, claimed that he c......
  • Physical and Mental Examinations
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Guerrilla Discovery - 2015 Contents
    • 5 Agosto 2015
    ...state jurisdiction. 3 1 Even the right to examine a personal injury plaintiff should not be taken for granted. Consider Crider v. Sneider, 243 Ga. 642, 256 S.E.2d 335 (1979), a wrongful-death case arising from an auto accident; it featured a defendant who, during discovery, claimed that he ......

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