General Motors Corp. v. Simmons, 16705

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas. Court of Civil Appeals of Texas
Citation545 S.W.2d 502
Docket NumberNo. 16705,16705
PartiesGENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, Appellant, v. Curtis Lee SIMMONS et al., Appellees. (1st Dist.)
Decision Date24 November 1976

Page 502

545 S.W.2d 502
Curtis Lee SIMMONS et al., Appellees.
No. 16705.
Court of Civil Appeals of Texas,
Houston (1st Dist.).
Nov. 24, 1976.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 13, 1977.

Page 505

Harry M. Reasoner, Eleanor Swift Glass, Alan Schulman, Francis E. McGovern, II, Houston, Vinson, Elkins, Searls, Connally & Smith, Houston, of counsel, Gus M. Hodges, Austin, of counsel, Frazer F. Hilder, Thomas W. Watkins, Diane L. Kaye, Detroit, Mich., of counsel, for appellant.

Joseph D. Jamail, S. Gus Kolius, Houston, for appellee Curtis Lee Simmons.

Finis E. Cowan, Houston, Baker & Botts, Houston, of counsel, for appellees Hestle Andrew Johnston and Feld Truck Leasing Corp.

COLEMAN, Chief Justice.

This is a suit for damages for injuries received in an automobile collision. The plaintiffs sued the driver of the other vehicle and its owner alleging negligence and proximate cause, and General Motors Corporation alleging negligence per se and products liability . Questions involving indemnity and contribution are presented. The case was tried to a jury and based on the verdict a judgment for the sum of $1,000,000.00 was awarded to the plaintiff and against the defendant General Motors Corporation. The judgment denied General Motors relief on its cross-action for indemnity or contribution. General Motors has properly perfected its appeal. The judgment is reformed and as reformed is affirmed.

The plaintiff Curtis Lee Simmons was involved in an intersectional collision while

Page 506

driving a 1962 model Chevrolet Impala. Simmons' car was struck at the left front door by a truck owned by the defendant Feld Truck Leasing Corporation and operated by the defendant Hestle Andrew Johnston, an employee of Feld. Simmons suffered personal injuries, principally lacerations of his eyes.

Suit was brought by Simmons against both Johnston and Feld alleging several acts of negligence which proximately caused the collision and resulting injuries to Simmons. Subsequently, defendants Feld and Johnston filed a third party action seeking contribution and indemnity against General Motors alleging that the direct and immediate proximate cause of Simmons' injuries was General Motors' use of defective window glass in the left side window of the 1962 Chevrolet Impala. Simmons amended his petition to charge General Motors with negligence and strict liability in the use of the left side window glass. Subsequent amendments by Simmons and the third party plaintiffs Feld and Johnston added allegations of negligence per se premised on Article 6701d, § 136(a), V.A.C.S., other acts of negligence and breach of warranty.

General Motors denied Simmons' and the third party plaintiffs' allegations and asserted that the sole proximate cause of plaintiff Simmons' accident and injuries was the conduct of Johnston and that any damages suffered by Johnston and Feld was proximately caused by Johnston's negligence.

During the pendency of the suit Simmons entered into a covenant not to sue and an indemnity agreement with defendants Feld and Johnston. For a monetary consideration Simmons covenanted not to sue or seek recovery against Feld and Johnston and also agreed that in the event he was successful in prosecuting his action against General Motors and was paid a money judgment by General Motors, Feld Truck Leasing Corporation would receive from Simmons from the proceeds of such judgment 50% Of each dollar recovered up to a total amount of $200,000.00.

After entering into this agreement Feld and Johnston filed amended pleadings in which they acknowledged the fact that they had entered into the covenant not to sue and into an indemnity agreement and further acknowledged that the accident 'had occurred because Hestle Andrew Johnston, Jr. had disregarded either a red light or a yellow caution signal and that they therefore had a liability to Curtis Lee Simmons for some damages.' The defendants Feld and Johnston further alleged that while they were responsible for the collision in question, the sole proximate cause (as that phrase is defined in law) of the plaintiff's loss of eyesight was the negligence of General Motors Corporation and the failure of General Motors Corporation to produce a non-defective vehicle. General Motors then filed a cross-action against Feld and Johnston seeking indemnity or contribution. The trial court refused to permit General Motors to reveal the existence of the indemnity agreement to the jury.

The jury found that General Motors had placed glass in the left door window of Simmons' automobile which was 'not manufactured, fabricated or treated so as to substantially prevent the glass shattering and flying when broken,' (Substantially in the language of Article 6701d, Sec. 136(c)), and that such failure was a proximate cause and the sole proximate cause of the injury to Simmons' eyes. The jury also found that General Motors had equipped the automobile with glass in the left side window which was defective, and that such defect was a producing cause and the sole producing cause of the injury to Simmons' eyes.

The trial court instructed the jury that the statute of the State of Texas applicable to safety plate glass in motor vehicles at the time the Curtis Simmons vehicle was manufactured and registered in the State of Texas reads as follows:

'Section 136(a). It shall be unlawful after the 1st day of January, 1948, for any person to sell any new motor vehicle nor shall the same be registered in this state, unless the doors, windows and windshields of such vehicle be equipped

Page 507

with safety glass wherever glass is used in doors, windows and windshields.

'(c) The term 'safety glass', as used in this Act shall mean any product composed of glass so manufactured, fabricated or treated as to substantially prevent shattering and flying of the glass when struck or broken.'

General Motors objected to such instruction on the ground that it was totally inapplicable to the case and did not aid the jury in rendering a verdict and was so prejudicial as to deny General Motors a fair trial. The objections were overruled. It appears that this statute had been amended and that the amended statute had gone into effect two days prior to the date of the collision. The statute as amended does not use the word 'safety glass.' The amended statute reads:

'On and after January 1, 1972, no person shall sell any new motor vehicle as specified herein, nor shall any new motor vehicle as specified herein be registered thereafter unless such vehicle is equipped with safety glazing material of a type approved by the Department of Public Safety wherever glazing material is used in doors, windows and windshields . . .

'(b) The term 'safety glazing materials' means glazing material so constructed, treated or combined with other materials as to reduce substantially, in comparison with ordinary sheet glass or plate glass, the likelihood of injury to persons by objects from exterior sources or by the safety glazing materials when they may be cracked or broken.'

While the language of Section 136(a) of Article 6701d, both as enacted in 1948 and after its amendment in 1971, is not specific on this point, no question has been raised but that the offense created by the Act was the sale or registration of a new motor vehicle in Texas, which fails to conform to the statute in effect at the time of such sale or registration with respect to the type of glass which was used in the doors, windows and windshields of the vehicle. There is no evidence that the vehicle in question in this case was sold by General Motors to a customer within the State of Texas. There is no evidence that General Motors violated the Act in the absence of evidence that the vehicle in question when 'new' was registered by General Motors in the State of Texas or was sold by General Motors to a customer within the State of Texas.

It might be argued, however, that the statute enacted in 1948 constituted a standard of care required of all manufacturers of automobiles brought into the State of Texas. The argument would be that the purpose of the statute was to set a standard of care for the manufacturers of automobiles used on the highways of the State of Texas.

Neither statute expressly requires automobiles to be equipped with safety glass or safety glazing materials. Both effectively prohibit the sale of new cars to residents of Texas unless they meet certain safety standards. A statute should not be construed so as to ascribe to the legislature an intention to do an unjust or unreasonable thing if the statute is reasonably susceptible of a construction that will not accomplish this result. The court construing the statute should ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent. Anderson v. Penix, 138 Tex. 596, 161 S.W.2d 455 (1942).

It is clear that the legislature did not intend to require that all motor vehicles using the highways of this State be equipped with safety glass. It does not appear that it was the purpose of the legislature to require that manufacturers of automobiles or other motor vehicles equip those to be sold in states other than Texas with safety glass. Such an action at least with respect to manufacturers located outside the limits of the State of Texas would be ineffective. Neither can the language of the statute reasonably be construed to prohibit transportation into the State of Texas of privately owned motor vehicles not equipped with safety glass. State laws or regulations that run afoul of the policy of free trade reflected in the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States are invalid. Bibb v. Navajo Freight

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Lines, Inc., 359 U.S. 520, 79 S.Ct. 962, 3 L.Ed.2d 1003 (1959).

In Rudes v. Gottschalk, 159 Tex. 552, 324 S.W.2d 201 (1959), the court said:

'Fundamentally, however, the application of proscriptions contained in criminal statutes as standards for determining tort liability stems from the...

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5 cases
  • General Motors Corp. v. Simmons, B-6604
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • 9 d3 Novembro d3 1977 granting General Motors contribution from Johnston and Feld and rendering judgment for the plaintiff for half a million dollars. 545 S.W.2d 502. Two primary questions are presented. General Motors seeks a reversal because the trial court refused to admit into evidence the terms of the "M......
  • Turner v. General Motors Corp.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • 13 d3 Junho d3 1979
    ...dangerous in terms of the ordinary consumer with the ordinary knowledge common to the community. The court in General Motors Corp. v. Simmons, 545 S.W.2d 502 (Tex.Civ.App.1976), writ granted on other grounds, 558 S.W.2d 855 (Tex.1977), considered the contention that the court's definition o......
  • Commonwealth Lloyd's Ins. Co. v. Thomas, 2-83-171-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 18 d4 Outubro d4 1984
    ...or refusing evidence of this type. Pittman v. Baladez, 158 Tex. 372, 312 S.W.2d 210 (1958); General Motors Corp. v. Simmons, 545 S.W.2d 502 (Tex.Civ.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1976), rev'd on other grounds, 558 S.W.2d 855 (Tex.1977); see also Hartford Fire Insurance Co., 395 S.W.2d at Under ......
  • Gannett Outdoor Co. of Texas v. Kubeczka, A14-85-489-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 13 d4 Fevereiro d4 1986
    ..."cooperated with" or "concurred with" the hurricane winds in producing the injury. See General Motors Corp. v. Simmons, 545 S.W.2d 502, 518 (Tex.Civ.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1976), rev'd on other grounds, 558 S.W.2d 855 Appellant argues there was "some" evidence of "new and independent cau......
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