Currie v. Fiting, 76

Decision Date01 April 1964
Docket NumberNo. 76,76
Citation375 Mich. 440,134 N.W.2d 611
PartiesGilbert A. CURRIE, Jr., Administrator of the Estate of Linda Kay Hopkins, Deceased, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Fred E. FITING, Defendant and Appellant. ,
CourtMichigan Supreme Court
Peter F. Cicinelli and Eugene D. Mossner, Saginaw, for plaintiff and appellee

Smith, Brooker & Harvey, Saginaw, for defendant and appellant.

Before the Entire Bench.

ADAMS, Justice.

This case involves a wrongful death action brought for the death of Linda Kay Hopkins, a 21-year-old girl, who was killed in a two-car collision. The trial judge awarded $3,147.14 for funeral and burial expenses, $1,000 per year for loss of society and companionship of decedent for the average life expectancy of the surviving parents, and $3,131.18 interest from the date of the accident, for a total of $32,778.32.

I

The first question is the right of the administrator to recover more than funeral expenses, there being no evidence of financial dependency by the parents of Linda, her sole heirs. C.L.1948, § 691.582 (Stat.Ann.1959 Cum.Supp. § 27.721). 1

It is the contention of appellant that the test for recovery of damages for the death of a person over 21 years of age is either financial dependency (MacDonald v. Quimby, 350 Mich. 21, 85 N.W.2d 157) or assumption by deceased of an obligation to support a surviving next -of-kin (Judis v. Borg-Warner Corporation, 339 Mich. 313, 63 N.W.2d 647; Rytkonen v. City of Wakefield, 364 Mich. 86, 111 N.W.2d 63; Mooney v. Hill, 367 Mich. 138, 116 N.W.2d 231).

Beginning with the dissent of Justice Talbot Smith in Courtney v. Apple, 345 Mich. 223, 76 N.W.2d 80, this Court has steadily moved away from the proposition--from With Wycko v. Gnodtke, 361 Mich. 331, 105 N.W.2d 118, a majority of this Court clearly recognized an expanded view of pecuniary damage as stated by Justice Talbot Smith:

which Justice Smith recoiled in that case--that the value of the life of a child or of any human being is such that there can be a recovery for funeral expenses and nothing more.

'What, then, is the pecuniary loss suffered because of the taking of the child's life? It is the pecuniary value of the life. We are aware, of course, that there are those who say that the life a human being is impossible to value, that although we will grapple mightily with the value of the life of a horse, of a team of mules, we will stand aloof where a human is concerned and assign it no value whatever. This kind of delicacy would prevent the distribution of food to the starving because the sight of hunger is so sickening. But we cannot shirk this difficult problem of valuation. In the cases coming to us a life has been taken and it is our duty, as best we can, to put a fair valuation on it. In so doing, we will keep in mind that the act is remedial in its character and our duty is to construe it liberally in favor of the beneficiaries.

'The pecuniary value of a human life is a compound of many elements. The use of material analogies may be helpful and inoffensive. Just as with respect to a manufacturing plant, or industrial machine, value involves the cost of acquisition emplacement, upkeep, maintenance service, repair, and renovation, so, in our context, we must consider the expenses of birth, of food, of clothing, of medicines, of instruction, of nurture and shelter. Moreover, just as an item of machinery forming part of a functioning industrial plant has a value over and above that of a similar item in a showroom, awaiting purchase, so an individual member of a family has a value to others as part of a functioning social and economic unit. This value is the value of mutual society and protection, in a word, companionship. The human companionship thus afforded has a definite, substantial, and ascertainable pecuniary value and its loss forms a part of the 'value' of the life we seek to ascertain.'

The human companionship of which Justice Smith spoke was testified to most eloquently in this case by the mother and father of Linda Kay Hopkins:

'Q. And are you the mother of the deceased Linda Kay Hopkins?

'A. Yes.

'Q. Could you tell us what the age of Linda was on July 20th, 1960?

'A. She was 21 years old at that time.

'Q. And when had she become 21?

'A. August 24th, the year before. She would have been 22 in August.

'Q. The month following?

'A. Yes, following her death.

'Q. At the time of her death, Mrs. Hopkins, what was her occupation?

'A. She was a student at Michigan State, working on her business administration degree.

'Q. How long did she have yet to obtain her business administration degree at Michigan State?

'A. It would have been about 2 weeks. She would have been through as soon as the first summer term was over. She would have been through then and had her degree.

'Q. Up to that point, Mrs. Hopkins, had she qualified?

'A. She had qualified as a graduate and had graduated in the spring as a graduate, but she did not have her degree 'Q. Was there a degree for business administration awarded to her at any time?

yet. It was because she had changed her course from retailing to business administration.

'A. Yes, it was awarded posthumously to her.

'Q. On July 20th, 1960, Mrs. Hopkins, did you have any other children?

'A. No, we did not.

'Q. She was the only child?

'A. Yes. I was unable to have any other children. * * *

'Q. At the time of Linda Kay Hopkins' death, other than when she was attending school, where did she live?

'A. Well, she always lived home with us, Mr. Cicinelli, when she wasn't in school.

'Q. At the time of her death, Mrs. Hopkins, was she a single or married person at that time?

'A. She was single and she was not engaged to anyone.

'Q. Was she going steady with any boy friend?

'A. No, she wasn't at that time. * * *

'Q. And what type of student would you say generally she was?

'A. She was a very good student.

'Q. And how would you describe the type of daughter, type of individual, type of person that she was?

'A. We thought that she was pretty wonderful. While we were very sad that we couldn't have any other children, I just thanked God every day that I had her, because I thought she was just about everything you would want.

'Q. Was she obedient?

'A. Yes. (Crying) I'm sorry. (Pause)

'Q. What was her health generally at the time of her death?

'A. Her health was very good at the time of her death. She had had allergies from the time she was a little girl, asthma. We spent a good many years trying to find out what caused it, the allergies. By the time she was 18, by that time we had things under control and from then on she was a very healthy girl. As a matter of fact, she was cheer leader at Michigan State, one of them, and she would have to be healthy to do that.

'Q. That would be in reference to her athletic activities?

'A. Yes, at football games.

'Q. Was that during all the time she was there?

'A. During 3 years that she was there, yes. She was a very good girl. We never had any trouble with her at all.

'Q. Did she engage in any church activities?

'A. She went to church every Sunday. She even did at college, which a lot of youngsters don't do. She was very much a Christian. She didn't drink or smoke, which a lot of girls of her age do. In fact, I thought we did a pretty good job of raising her.

'Q. No further questions.

'The Court: Do you have any cross-examination, Mr. Smith?

'Mr. Smith: I think not.'

The relationship was testified to by the father as follows:

'* * * my daughter has been engaged in--was engaged in our business. She was graduating in the business 'Q. Generally, so the record will show it, what type of business were you operating and had been operating at that time?

administration school at Michigan State College. I had hoped she would come into the business and I had had every indication from her that she would. When you have one child and,--such as we had, my wife and I don't have too much of a family, all we had was her, all that we were accumulating we hoped she would take over, and we hoped she would be able [375 Mich. 452] to run the business successfully, and she had worked in the business from the time that she--oh, probably from the time she was around 12 years old. She had worked in various capacities in my business as to what a child could do, partly because we thought it was good training for a child and partly because I wanted her to see all of our operations and to grow up with all of the various operations in my business preparatory to eventually taking it over.

'A. We had 3 businesses we were operating at that time. There was the printing business, there was a corporation engaged in the rental of properties and there was a retail store.'

In Thompson v. Ogemaw County Board of Road Commissioners, 357 Mich. 482, 98 N.W.2d 620, Justice Edwards writing the majority opinion stated as to consideration of pecuniary injury after the 21st birthday:

'A large majority of state courts hold that recovery may be had for the loss of benefits reasonably to be expected after the majority of the deceased. Inspiration Consol. Copper Co. v. Bryan, 35 Ariz. 285, 276 P. 846; Bohrman v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 23 N.J.Super. 399, 93 A.2d 190; Foerster v. Direito, 75 Cal.App.2d 323, 170 P.2d 986. See, also, Van Cleave v. Lynch, 109 Utah 149, 166 P.2d 244; annotation, 14 A.L.R.2d 485, Measure and elements of damages for personal injury resulting in death of infant.

'We do not believe that the age of the child at death (whether before or after majority) is decisive as to consideration of loss of possible future support after the 21st birthday. Nothing in the Michigan statute pertaining to wrongful death suggests such a distinction.'

Why age 21 should set up a magic barrier baffles understanding in view of the total omission from the statute 2 of any statement of limitation as to age. The appellant, significantly, speaks of 'the death of an adult child.'...

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