Crocker v. Lee

Decision Date30 August 1954
Docket Number1 Div. 598
PartiesH. H. CROCKER v. John T. LEE.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

The following charges were given for defendant:

'C. The Court charges the Jury, that a pedestrian attempting to cross a street who, without necessity, places himself in a position of danger from an approaching automobile through inadvertence, forgetfulness, inattention, absent-mindedness or carelessness is guilty of contributory negligence barring his recovery of damages, if such negligence proximately contributed to cause his injury.'

'9. The Court charges the Jury, that if you are reasonably satisfied from the evidence in this case that the negligence of the Plaintiff in any way contributed to his injury, then in that event your verdict should be for the Defendant under Count A of the Complaint.'

'10. The Court charges the Jury, that if you are reasonably satisfied from the evidence in this case that the negligence of the Plaintiff was a proximate cause of the injuries, the basis of this litigation, then in that event your verdict should be for the Defendant.'

'11. The Court charges the Jury, that under the laws of the State of Alabama, that if the negligence of the injured party in any way contributes to his injury then he cannot recover damages from another party whose simple negligence also contributes to said injuries.'

'24. The Court charges the jury that the burden of proof is upon the plaintiff to show that the proximate cause of the plaintiff's damages were the direct result of the negligence of the defendant; if you are not reasonably satisfied from the evidence in this case that the plaintiff has proven such negligence on the part of the defendant as being the proximate cause of the plaintiff's damages, your verdict should be for the defendant.'

This charge was refused to plaintiff:

'11. The Court charges the jury that contributory negligence by the plaintiff in this case which will bar his recovery under Count A must be such as that it caused the injury complained of or proximately contributed thereto, and even though you find from the evidence that the negligence of the plaintiff, if there was such negligence, was merely the cause of a condition upon which the negligence of the defendant in failing to use the means within his power to avoid the injury after becoming aware of the plaintiff's peril, operated as the sole proximate cause of the injury complained of, such negligence on the part of the plaintiff, if you find there was such negligence, will not prevent a recovery.'

N. S. Hare, Monroeville, for appellant.

B. E. Jones and R. L. Jones, Evergreen and Monroeville, for appellee.

Clifford Emond, Bryan Chancey, Clifford Emond, Jr., Chas. B. Aycock, T. Eric Embry, John H. Martin, Jr., and Walter L. Mims, Birmingham, and W. E. Brobston, Bessemer, amici curiae, in support of appeal.

SIMPSON, Justice.

H. H. Crocker, of the age of about seventy-seven years, sued John T. Lee for damages for personal injuries received by him when he was struck by Lee's automobile as he was walking across Highway No. 11 at the intersection of Pike Street and said highway just outside of the city limits of Monroeville, Alabama. From a judgment for the defendant the plaintiff brings this appeal.

The case went to the jury on Count A, charging simple negligence, and Count B charging wantonness. The pleas were in short by consent, so the issues tendered under Count A were the negligence of the defendant, both initial and subsequent, and the contributory negligence of the plaintiff, and under Count B, the charge of wantonness as against the plea of the general issue.

There were several charges on contributory negligence given at the request of the defendant which were prejudicially erroneous, thereby requiring a reversal of the cause. Following are the governing principles:

First, a charge is erroneous which fails to hypothesize that the negligence of the plaintiff as a bar to recovery proximately contributed to the plaintiff's injury. Such negligence in order to defeat recovery under a plea of contributory negligence must be a concurring proximate cause of the injury and not merely a remote or antecedent cause or condition. Terry v. Nelms, 256 Ala. 291, 54 So.2d 282, and cases cited; Smith v. Crenshaw, 220 Ala. 510, 126 So. 127.

Charges 9 and 11 violated this rule in omitting 'proximate' and the consistent holding of this court has been that when the charge is so fatally omissive, its giving, under the circumstances, will be error to reverse. Terry v. Nelms, supra, and cases cited.

Second, the giving of a charge is erroneous which predicates a finding of no liability of the defendant on the hypothesis that the plaintiff was guilty of negligence proximately contributing to his injury where there is a wanton count in the complaint and properly submitted to the jury, since contributory negligence is no defense to such a charge. Garth v. North Alabama Traction Co., 148 Ala. 96, 42 So. 627; Ashley v. McMurray, 222 Ala. 32(9), 130 So. 401. Charges C, 10 and 11 violated this principle and were erroneously given.

Charge 24 was faulty since the fact that the defendant was not guilty of negligence would not preclude a finding that he was guilty of willful or wanton conduct. Coleman v. Hamilton Storage Co., 235 Ala. 553(13), 180 So. 553. It is noticed that a similar charge was approved in Karpeles v. City Ice Delivery Co., 198 Ala. 449, 73 So. 642. But it would seem from the report of that case there was no evidence to support the wanton count and it was not considered by the court.

To avert the criticism leveled at the last four charges, appellee argues that there was no evidence justifying submission of the wanton count to the jury and that, therefore, the giving of the charges was error without injury. Tyler v. Drennen, 255 Ala. 377, 51 So.2d 516.

Following are the salient features of the evidence most favorable to the plaintiff: The defendant was driving his automobile on Highway 11 at a speed of approximately fifty miles per hour in a residence district, as defined by the Code, Title 36, § 1(34). This rate of speed was prima facie unlawful, twenty-five miles per hour being the maximum speed which is regarded under the statute as prima facie lawful. Code, Title 36, § 5. Defendant was proceeding in his automobile toward the intersection of Pike Street and the highway, where the plaintiff was, according to his testimony, preparing to cross. Defendant was familiar with the intersection; it was a populous crossing, much used by the public. He knew the plaintiff and had seen him over 625 feet away standing on the opposite side of the highway at or near the crossing. As he, defendant, approached the intersection, he noticed the plaintiff looking at another car before he attempted to cross. He observed the plaintiff as he started to cross and when another car meeting his automobile obstructed his view momentarily, the plaintiff 'made a break' to get across in front of his automobile. He knew the plaintiff was an aged man and 'walks with his head hanging to the ground' and that the plaintiff was partially deaf. Plaintiff's testimony was that when he started across the highway at the intersection he observed the defendant's car at the top of the hill some 250 yards away and that when he next observed the car he had almost made the trip across the highway and the car was about thirty feet away, bearing down upon him. He was struck within a foot or eighteen inches of the edge of the blacktop on the defendant's right-hand side of the highway. The blacktop was twenty feet in width and there was sufficient room on the left side of where the plaintiff was struck to have passed with safety on the defendant's side of the yellow center line. The defendant admitted in his interrogatories he skidded his tires ninety feet. Reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, we entertain the view that there was at least a scintilla requiring submission of the issue of wantonness to the jury.

In addressing consideration of the foregoing evidence to the governing rules, it is to be first observed that while the principle is the same in all cases, there are necessarily shades of difference in the facts of each case and for that reason the definition of wantonness must be viewed in the light of the circumstances of the particular case under review. Wilhite v. Webb, 253 Ala. 606, 46 So.2d 414.

It is universally held that a willful or intentional act may not necessarily be involved in wantonness. It may consist of an inadvertent failure to act by a person with knowledge that someone is probably imperiled and the act or failure to act was in reckless disregard of the consequences. McNickle v. Stripling, 259 Ala. 576, 67 So.2d 832.

The rule particularly applicable here is that wantonness may arise where the defendant has knowledge that persons, though not seen, are likely to be in a position of danger and with conscious disregard of known conditions of danger and in violation of law he brings on the disaster. Godfrey v. Vinson, 215 Ala. 166, 169, 110 So. 13, 16; McNickle v. Stripling, supra.

In the light of these well-recognized statements of the law, we think it clear that there was sufficient evidence to submit the wanton count to the jury. According to the plaintiff's evidence, the defendant should have seen the plaintiff as he started across the highway. Indeed, at such a populous crossing the defendant should have known that pedestrians might be attempting to cross when his vehicle was some 250 yards away. However, he did not slacken his speed until, according to the plaintiff's testimony, he was but a short distance away. His violation, prima facie, of the speed law to the extent shown here, together with the other facts and circumstances adverted to above, raises an inference of wantonness.

True, as argued by appellee, speed alone does not import wantonness and the violation of the...

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32 cases
  • McLaney v. Turner
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 19 Junio 1958
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1 books & journal articles
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