Dixie Elec. Co. v. Maggio

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation294 Ala. 411,318 So.2d 274
PartiesDIXIE ELECTRIC COMPANY, a corp., and Ralph Miller v. A. J. MAGGIO. SC 964.
Decision Date31 July 1975

James W. Garrett, Jr., and William B. Moore, Jr., Montgomery, for appellants.

Charles H. Volz, Jr., and Al J. Sansone, Montgomery, for appellee.

SHORES, Justice.

This appeal is from a judgment rendered on a verdict in a personal injury action brought by A. J. Maggio against Dixie Electric Company, a corporation, and Ralph Miller, its employee. Mr. Maggio sought damages for injuries allegedly resulting from negligence and wanton misconduct of the defendants. Both counts were submitted to the jury which awarded the plaintiff $43,000.

The facts out of which this litigation arose are:

On June 6, 1973, defendant Ralph Miller parked a Dixie Electric pickup truck in a parking space on South Court Street in Montgomery. The truck was parked in such a manner that the rear of the truck faced the public sidewalk. An extension ladder, which was positioned on top of the truck, projected beyond the rear of the truck and out over the public sidewalk. Mr. Maggio, walking north on the public sidewalk on South Court Street, struck his head on the protruding ladder and fell to the sidewalk, receiving severe injuries.

The rear wheels of the truck were on a crack, which was the point at which the sidewalk began. At the time of the accident, there was no flag or any warning device on the ladder. Immediately after the accident, Mr. Miller moved the truck forward and flagged the ladder.

Appellants list seventeen assignments of error on this appeal, which raise two basic issues: (1) Whether the trial court erred in submitting the question of defendants' alleged wantonness to the jury; and (2) whether the trial court erred by admitting into evidence the testimony that Mr. Miller pulled the truck forward and placed a flag on the protruding ladder subsequent to the accident.

Appellants argue that the court erred in refusing their motion for a directed verdict on the wanton count. In brief, they say that 'From an examination of the evidence . . . there is certainly not a speck of testimony which would show that Ralph Miller demonstrated a will or intention to injure Mr. Maggio.' We agree. But, that is not the test of wantonness.

" Wantonness' is the conscious doing of some act or the omission of some duty under the knowledge of the existing conditions, and conscious that from the doing of such act or omission of such duty injury will likely or probably result. . . .' Kilcrease v. Harris, 288 Ala. 245, 251, 259 So.2d 797, 801 (1972); Culpepper & Stone Plumbing & Heating Co. v. Turner, 276 Ala. 359, 162 So.2d 455 (1964). One may be guilty of wanton misconduct without actual intent to injury anyone. Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Co. v. Murphy, 2 Ala.App. 588, 56 So. 817 (1911). In this sense, '. . . A willful or intentional act is not involved in wantonness . . .' Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Brackin, 248 Ala. 459, 461, 28 So.2d 193, 194 (1946). '. . . 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 . . .' Crocker v. Lee, 261 Ala. 439, 444, 74 So.2d 429, 434 (1954). The knowledge requirement of wantonness 'need not be shown by direct proof, but may be shown by adducing facts from which knowledge is a legitimate inference.' Kilcrease v. Harris, supra (288 Ala. at 252, 259 So.2d at 802).

In determining whether the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to submit the wanton count to the jury, we must look to well-established guidelines. '. . . a question must go to the jury, if the evidence, or any reasonable inference arising therefrom, furnishes a mere gleam, glimmer, spark, the least particle, the smallest trace, or a scintilla in support of the theory of the complaint. . . .' Kilcrease v. Harris,supra (288 Ala. at 252, 259 So.2d 802). The question should be taken from the jury only when there is not a scintilla of evidence in support of the controverted point. Additionally, in determining the sufficiency of the evidence, this court must presume the jury's verdict was correct, and will not set aside such verdict unless the preponderance of the evidence is so against the verdict as to convince this court that it is wrong and unjust. Kilcrease v. Harris, supra; Tallapoosa River Electric Coop., Inc. v. Burns, 271 Ala. 435, 124 So.2d 672 (1960).

The jury in the instant case could conclude from the evidence that the defendant Miller (1) knew that the ladder projected beyond the truck body; (2) knew that it was possible for someone walking near the truck to strike his head on the ladder; (3) that knowing this, he parked portions of the vehicle on the public sidewalk in violation of a city ordinance; and (4) that he knew the rainy conditions would limit visibility of pedestrians using the sidewalk. Thus, we cannot say there was not a scintilla of evidence from which the jury could find that the defendant Miller acted in reckless disregard of the consequences of his act.

Whether the dangerous situation created by the defendant '. . . resulted from mere inadvertence or inattention, which would be nothing more than negligence; or whether . . . from a conscious indifference to the likely or probable consequences, which would be wantonness, was a question for the jury.' Culpepper & Stone Plumbing & heating Co. v. Turner, supra (276 Ala. at 365, 162 So.2d at 460.). The court did not err in refusing to direct a verdict in favor of defendants on this count.

The second issue presented by this appeal concerns testimony that subsequent to the accident the truck was moved forward and a flag placed on the end of the projecting ladder. The appellants insist that this is evidence of a subsequent change or repair and, as such, is inadmissible to show negligence on the part of the defendant.

It is true that evidence showing repairs to machines, streets, or the like, after an injury, is generally not admissible to show negligence, II Wigmore on Evidence, Third Edition, § 283, page 151, but it is equally true that the condition of a place or thing at the time of an injury may always be shown.

The record shows that Mr. Maggio hit his head on the ladder which protruded over the sidewalk at around noon on June 6, 1973. It was cloudy and raining at the time. He fell to the ground, having fractured his hip. Mrs. Margaret Mock worked in the Wilson Building where the Dixie Electric truck was parked. She said someone came in to call the police and she went outside and saw Mr. Maggio lying on the sidewalk in the rain, and also saw Mr. Miller come out and pull the truck up and put a flag on the ladder. A Mr. Mitchell testified that he worked in the Wilson Building and, upon hearing that there had been an accident, went outside and observed the truck parked at the steps of the building and saw someone helping Mr. Maggio to the back seat of an automobile. A Mr. Pugh testified that he was walking down Court Street and saw a man helping Mr. Maggio into the back of an automobile and he, Mr. Pugh, called an ambulance and saw Mr. Miller move the truck forward and place a flag on the ladder. Mr. Miller affirmed these actions. All of this occurred minutes after the accident and before the police or ambulance arrived.

We think this evidence was admissible as a part of the res gestae.

At § 413, 31A C.J.S. Evidence, the rule is summarized:

'Statements or acts, although subsequent to the main or principal event, which are so intimately interwoven with it by the surrounding circumstances as to raise a reasonable presumption that they were made or done under the immediate influence of the principal transaction or event itself, rather than the result of premeditation or design, are admissible.'

Also:

'. . . acts or statements which, although subsequent in point of time...

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