Fisher v. Suko

Decision Date18 October 1961
Docket NumberNo. 7961,7961
Citation111 N.W.2d 360
PartiesGeorge FISHER, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Edwin SUKO, Executor of the Last Will of Reinhold Suko, Deceased, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. As a general rule the credibility of witnesses and the probability of their stories are questions for the jury and not the appellate court.

2. The credibility of expert witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony are generally for the determination of the trier of the facts.

3. To be admissible, evidence of experiments must be shown to be relevant to the issues and to have been made under conditions substantially similar to those prevailing at the time of the occurrence to which they relate.

4. The admission of evidence of experiments is primarily within the discretion of the trial court, and the exercise of that discretion will be disturbed by an appellate court only when it has been abused.

5. Where an instruction is correct as far as it goes, error cannot be based on the ground that it is not sufficiently full or explicit unless a request is made for a more specific and comprehensive instruction except where the omission of a more comprehensive instruction amounts to misdirection.

6. The contributory negligence of a host driver of an automobile is not imputable to his guest, but if the guest himself is guilty of contributory negligence it will bar his recovery against a negligent third person.

Duffy & Haugland, Devils Lake, for defendant-appellant.

Hjellum, Weiss, Nerison & Ottmar, Jamestown, for plaintiff-respondent.

MORRIS, Judge.

This is an appeal by the defendant from a judgment rendered pursuant to a verdict of a jury and from an order denying a motion for new trial. The plaintiff, George Fisher, was injured while riding as a passenger in an automobile owned and driven by Ben Knoepfle which collided with one being driven by Reinhold Suko whose executor is the defendant. The collision resulted in injuries to Fisher and Knoepfle and in the death of Suko. The accident occurred December 12, 1957, at approximately three o'clock p. m. on a clear day, on U. S. Highway No. 10 near the eastern outskirts of the City of Medina. The highway runs through the city in an east-west direction. As the highway leaves the city toward the east it curves to the south, runs straight in a southeasterly direction for a short distance, and then curves toward the east until it runs east and west again. According to Knoepfle's testimony, he and Fisher left Medina in Knoepfle's 1951 Ford bound for Jamestown. They drove east on Highway No. 10, rounded the first curve toward the south, and were approaching the second curve, which turned toward the east, when Knoepfle first saw the Suko car approaching Medina on Highway No. 10 from the east. It was about 300 feet away. When it was about 200 feet distant, he saw that the Suko car was in the center of the road astride the yellow line. When the cars were about 100 feet apart, Knoepfle saw there was going to be an accident, started to turn toward the west, and stepped on the brake. He said he was driving in about the middle of his lane of traffic at a speed of 30 to 35 miles per hour. He estimated the speed of the Suko car as it came around the curve at 55 to 60 miles an hour.

The highway consisted of blacktop surfacing 28 feet wide. Knoepfle stated that when he first saw the Suko car it was pretty close to where the curve turns but hadn't come into the curve.

The highway patrolman who arrived at the scene shortly after the accident took measurements as to the positions of the cars and described the situation that he found. The Suko car was sitting in the north, or westbound, traffic lane. The right rear wheel was five feet ten inches south of the north edge of the blacktop. The right front wheel was five feet two inches south of the north edge. The Knoepfle car was sitting in the opposite traffic lane, across it, and at approximately right angles to the Suko car. The Suko car was pointed north and the Knoepfle car had its front end toward the east. The distance from the right front of the Knoepfle car to the left front wheel of the Suko car was three feet six inches. There was no yellow dividing line on the highway where the cars were sitting but a broken yellow line extended down the highway in both directions. There were, in fact, two yellow lines extending southeast of the cars. One was eleven feet nine inches, and the other eleven feet, south of the north edge of the blacktop. Each car was sitting on its side of a projection of the yellow line. There were marks on the highway and debris, glass and mud lying on the road. The debris was southeast of the Knoepfle car and southwest of the Suko car. The patrolman described the marks by stating that one was a deep mark about four inches wide and about ten to twelve inches long, and the other marks were scratches that started southeast of the Suko car and extended up to and under the left front frame. The deep mark was fifteen feet five inches south of the north edge of the blacktop and twelve feet five inches north of the south edge. The damage to the Suko automobile was on the left front and involved about the left three-quarters of the car. The left front wheel was pushed back and up and the left front part of the car was resting on the highway. The major portion of the damage to the Knoepfle car was on the left front fender and grill. The hood had been pushed back and up. Several photographs of the cars, showing their position on the highway and the damage, were admitted in evidence.

An east-west gravel road intersects and connects with Highway No. 10 at the south end of the curve on which the accident happened. It is known as the 'schoolhouse road' because it runs past a schoolhouse in the southern part of Medina. This schoolhouse is two blocks south of Highway No. 10 as it passes through the city, and two or three blocks west of the point where the road joins Highway No. 10 as it continues east from the south end of the curve. The defendant contends that Knoepfle did not drive eastward out of Medina on Highway No. 10, as he testifies, but drove eastward from the schoolhouse on the graveled road and collided with the Suko car near the intersection of the highway and the graveled road. This contention rests largely on the testimony of two witnesses who state they saw the Knoepfle car proceeding eastward from the schoolhouse shortly before the accident. This testimony, by inference, creates a conflict with that of Knoepfle which is within the province of the jury to resolve and is not conclusive as a matter of law.

The credibility of witnesses and the probability of their stories are questions for the jury and not the appellate court. Smith v. Riedinger, N.D., 95 N.W.2d 65; Nimmins v. Forsberg, 70 N.D. 417, 294 N.W. 663; Mikkelson v. Snider, 43 N.D. 416, 175 N.W. 220.

An expert witness was produced by the plaintiff. Another expert witness was called by the defendant. The examinations and cross-examinations were extensive. The experts did not agree as to the opinions expressed although the inquiries of counsel involved substantially the same basic questions. It is the general rule that the credibility of expert witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony are for the determination of the triers of facts, in this case the jury. Jacobson v. Mutual Benefit Health & Accident Association, 70 N.D. 566, 296 N.W. 545; Serbousek v. Stockmen Motors, Inc., N.D., 106 N.W.2d 879; Klundt v. Pfeifle, 77 N.D. 132, 41 N.W.2d 416; In re Heart River Irrigation District, 78 N.D. 302, 49 N.W.2d 217; Rogers on Expert Testimony, Third Edition, Section 306. The testimony of these witnesses is not conclusive as to any issue.

Our examination of the record, including the transcript of the testimony and the exhibits, leads us to the conclusion that the questions of the negligence of the defendant and the contributory negligence of the plaintiff were questions to be determined by the jury and that this court cannot say that the evidence is insufficient to justify the verdict.

We now pass to a consideration of the appellant's specifications of errors of law occurring at the trial. The appellant charges that the court erred in refusing to admit in evidence a motion picture film that was offered as an exhibit in connection with the examination of the expert witness, Stanley S. Johnson. This witness was the holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of North Dakota, and at the time of the trial was a consulting engineer who had made a study of the forces and other items that are involved in connection with automobile collisions. The witness testified that he had studied photographic exhibits in evidence that showed the positions of the cars after the accident, together with plats and drawings indicating the surroundings, had conducted demonstrations or experiments with model cars to show what would happen when they came in contact in different positions, and that the demonstrations or experiments related to the matter of the impact of cars and their reaction after impact. He had taken a motion picture of these model car experiments. After the film of that picture had been identified by the witness, and the conditions under which it had been made and the film developed had been described, the film was offered in evidence. Objections were made to the foundation, the competency and the relevancy of the proposed exhibit, and sustained. Counsel for the appellant then offered to show the film on a screen, to the jury, as visible demonstrative evidence. This offer was resisted and objected to and the objection sustained. The appellant argues that these rulings by the trial court are erroneous.

We will assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that evidence of the conduct and result of a competent and relevant experiment made out of the presence of...

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    ...are questions of fact for the jury to determine. Klundt v. Pfeifle, 77 N.D. 132, 41 N.W.2d 416; Stokes v. Dailey, supra; Fisher v. Suko, N.D., 111 N.W.2d 360. (5) That in considering a specification that the verdict of the jury is contrary to the evidence, the court will assume the truth of......
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