Gunnells v. Dethrage

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation366 So.2d 1104
PartiesSteven GUNNELLS v. David DETHRAGE, a Minor. Steven GUNNELLS v. Fred DETHRAGE. 77-260, 77-261.
Decision Date26 January 1979

Page 1104

366 So.2d 1104
David DETHRAGE, a Minor.
77-260, 77-261.
Supreme Court of Alabama.
Jan. 26, 1979.

Page 1105

George M. Van Tassel, Jr., Birmingham, for appellant.

Gus Colvin, Jr., Anniston, and David D. Wininger, Birmingham, for appellees.

EMBRY, Justice.

These appeals present a question of first impression: Is a minor held to an adult standard in determining whether his conduct while operating a motor vehicle is wilful or wanton? We hold he is.

Appellee, David Dethrage, a minor, filed his action against appellant, Steven Gunnells, also a minor, to recover damages for personal injuries received while a passenger in an automobile driven by Gunnells. Dethrage had accompanied Gunnells on a late night trip from Birmingham to Anniston. During the trip Gunnells fell asleep at the wheel, and the automobile left the road and struck a bridge abutment. Fred Dethrage, David's father, also brought suit to recover for loss of services of his minor son and the medical expenses incurred on account of his son's injuries. The cases were consolidated for trial, and the jury returned a verdict of $25,000 for David Dethrage and $5,000 for Fred Dethrage. Gunnells' motions for new trial were overruled in each case and he appeals.

Gunnells contends the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to instruct the jury that, in determining whether Gunnells' conduct was willful or wanton, the standard by which he is judged is that reasonable to expect from children of like age, intelligence and experience.

We disagree.

The overwhelming majority of jurisdictions hold minors to an adult standard in determining whether their conduct while engaging in an adult activity is negligent. See e. g., Robinson v. Lindsay, 20 Wash.App. 207, 579 P.2d 398 (1978); Prosser, Law of Torts, § 32, pp. 156-57 (4th Ed.1971); Annot., 97 A.L.R.2d 872 (1964). The prevailing view is that a minor who enters upon an adult activity such as the operation of a motor vehicle must exercise a commensurate degree of responsibility. Motor vehicles are dangerous instrumentalities and public safety demands that all who operate them exercise the same degree of care and competency. We adopt this view.

Page 1106

Gunnells, and some authorities, maintain that a minor should not be held to an adult standard because he cannot, in fact, meet it. See Wittmeier v. Post, 78 S.D. 520, 105 N.W.2d 65 (1960). Assuming, arguendo, this to be true,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
18 cases
  • Johnson v. Sunshine Min. Co., Inc., 14786
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • June 14, 1984
    ...or omission will likely or probably result in injury; it is not intent, but knowledge which is crucial to wantoness. Gunnells v. Dethrage, 366 So.2d 1104, 1106 (Ala. 1979). As respects the right of a trespasser to recover for injury on the ground that an act causing injury to the trespasser......
  • Lemond Const. Co. v. Wheeler
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • September 29, 1995
    ...Alabama law, a minor conducting an "adult activity" is required to exercise the same degree of care as an adult. Gunnells v. Dethrage, 366 So.2d 1104 (Ala.1979). This argument might have some merit if Chris had been operating the automobile, an "adult activity." However, Chris was only a pa......
  • Salter v. Westra, 89-7403
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • July 9, 1990
    ...Stallworth, 690 F.2d at 863 (emphasis added). See also, Pike v. City of Lanett, 518 So.2d 747, 748 (Ala.Civ.App.1987); Gunnells v. Dethrage, 366 So.2d 1104 (Ala.1979); Tolbert v. Gulsby, 333 So.2d 129 (Ala.1976); Rosen v. Lawson, 281 Ala. 351, 202 So.2d 716 (1967); Lewis v. Zell, 279 Ala. 3......
  • Keller v. Kiedinger
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • August 29, 1980
    ...he engages in an adult activity, and the public interest requires the minor be held to an adult standard of care. Gunnells v. Dethrage, 366 So.2d 1104 (Ala. 1979). Under our past decisions Denise Keller is capable of contributory negligence, and, absent wanton entrustment, her contributory ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT