Hanson v. Hall

Citation279 N.W. 227,202 Minn. 381
Decision Date01 April 1938
Docket Number31405.
PartiesHANSON v. HALL et al.
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)

279 N.W. 227

202 Minn. 381

HALL et al.

No. 31405.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

April 1, 1938

Appeal from District Court, Mower County; Norman E. Peterson, Judge.

Action for damage to truck by Lloyd Hanson against Robert Hall and others. Verdict for plaintiff and from an order denying defendant's alternative motion for judgment or a new trial, the defendants appeal.


Syllabus by the Court.

1. Where the injury complained of is caused by defendant's intentional invasion of plaintiff's right of unobstructed travel on a public highway, plaintiff's contributory negligence held to be no defense.

2. Held, that the jury might reasonably find that defendants' intentional invasion of plaintiff's rights was the proximate cause of the damage for which suit is brought where the evidence would support findings that plaintiff was traveling at a lawful speed, that he turned into the left land of the highway to pass a truck ahead of him in a lawful manner, that he was compelled to turn back into the right lane because of defendants' obstruction of the highway, and that as a result his truck collided with the other truck and was damaged.

3. Where a commercial vehicle is damaged as the result of a collision, the measure of damages properly includes the cost of repair, together with the value of its use while repairs are being made if it can be substantially restored to its former condition by repair.

PETERSON, J., dissenting. [279 N.W. 228]

[202 Minn. 382] Neil Hughes, of Minneapolis (Walter J. Welch, of Minneapolis, on the brief), for appellants.

Catherwood, Hughes & Alderson, of Austin, for respondent.

GALLAGHER, Chief Justice.

Appeal from an order denying defendants' alternative motion for judgment or a new trial.

On June 30, 1936, there was a strike by the Independent Union of All Workers against the Gamble Robinson Company in Austin. To prevent shipments from reaching that firm, the union detailed the three defendants to Lyle, 11 miles south from Austin, with instructions to stop and search all trucks which they thought might be transporting goods so consigned. They went to Lyle in defendant Gieger's automobile and parked it, with lights dimmed, on a north and south street in that village. That street consists of a 20-foot two-lane pavement with approximately 20 feet of black top gravel on each side, and is a part of United States Highway No. 218. The car was parked near the west curb pointing south.

About 1:30 that morning plaintiff entered the village from the south on highway No. 218, driving a truck loaded with shelled corn for delivery at Sparta, Wis. About 130 to 150 feet ahead of him was a truck driven by one Louis Elgen, similarly loaded and destined for the same place. Both trucks were traveling about 30 miles per hour. When the trucks entered the village, Gieger turned on his driving lights and the other two defendants left the automobile and stationed themselves on the west lane of the pavement a few feet north of the automobile and signaled the trucks to stop. Elgen first saw the men when 250 to 300 feet south of them and applied the brakes momentarily, slowing his speed to 20 to 25 miles per hour. Plaintiff saw the brake signal on the Elgen truck, [202 Minn. 383] but he and his relief driver testified that the bright lights of the Gieger car prevented their seeing the defendants on the pavement north of the car. Seeing no obstruction in the road, plaintiff slightly reduced his speed and turned into the west lane of the pavement to pass the Elgen truck. When almost up to the men on the pavement, Elgen further reduced his speed. By this time plaintiff had reached a point opposite the Gieger car and then for the first time saw defendants on the pavement. He swung his truck back into the east lane of the pavement to avoid hitting them, at the same time applying his brakes, and struck the left rear corner of the Elgen truck. For the damage resulting to his truck, plaintiff brought this action.

Defendants' versions of the manner in which the accident happened vary considerably from the foregoing, but the view of the evidence most favorable to the prevailing party must be taken on this appeal. Jacobsen v. Ahasay, 188 Minn. 179, 246 N.W. 670; 5 Dunnell, Minn.Dig., 2d Ed., § 7159; 5 C.J.S., Appeal & Error, § 1562d; 3 Am.Jur., Appeal & Error, §§ 937, 952; Hack v. Johnson, Minn., 275 N.W. 381; McIlvaine v. Delaney, 190 Minn. 401, 252 N.W. 234.

The questions for decision are (1) Is plaintiff's contributory negligence a defense to this action? (2) Were defendants' acts a proximate cause of plaintiff's damage? and (3) Was the jury correctly instructed as to the measure of damages?

1. Plaintiff complains that his damage was caused by the willful negligence of defendants. The latter alleged and attempted to prove that plaintiff was contributorily negligent, but the trial court, being of the opinion that defendants were engaged in the active prosecution of a conspiracy to interfere with plaintiff's right to use the highway, refused to submit plaintiff's contributory negligence to the jury on the ground that it was no defense to the cause of action stated. [279 N.W. 229]

Our society is builded in part upon the free passage of men and goods, and the public streets and highways may rightfully be used for travel by every one. 3 Dunnell, Minn.Dig., 2d Ed., § 4168. But inherent in every private right is the duty [202 Minn. 384] to exercise it for a lawful purpose and in a reasonable manner so that the equal rights of others will not be invaded or destroyed. The right to use a highway for purposes of travel does not give a person permission to use it in every fashion which suits his convenience. The right to use a highway extends only to its use for communication or travel; there is no right merely to be on a highway. 16 Halsbury's Laws of England, Hailsham Ed., 238. ‘ Streets and highways are dedicated, secured and maintained primarily for public transit, and must be so preserved. All other uses thereof must be subordinated or yield to the right of free and unobstructed passage.’ State v. Sugarman, 126 Minn. 477, 148 N.W. 466, 467, 52 L.R.A.,N.S., 999.

Beyond question, it is lawful for workingmen to combine and to strike for the purposes of raising wages, shortening hours, improving working conditions, and securing union recognition. Unassailable also is their right to inform the public, by means of pickets bannering an employer's place of business, of their grievances which give rise to the strike. Gray v. Building Trades Council, 91 Minn. 171, 97 N.W. 663,63 L.R.A. 753, 103 Am.St.Rup. 477, 1 Ann.Cas. 172; Minnesota Stove Co. v. Cavanaugh, 131 Minn. 458, 155 N.W. 638; George J. Grant Const. Co. v. St. Paul B. T. Council, 136 Minn. 167, 161 N.W. 520, 1055. To carry out these purposes, they may make reasonable use of the public streets and highways. Steffes v. Motion Picture M. O. U., 136 Minn. 200, 161 N.W. 524; International Pocketbook Workers' Union v. Orlove, 158 Md. 496, 148 A. 826. While trade unions and their members have a right to use the highways equal to the rights of other members of the public, that right is bounded by equal limitations. It must be exercised for a legitimate purpose and in a lawful manner; the mode of user must not prevent or impede the reasonable use of the highways by others. Steffes v. Motion Picture M. O. U., 136 Minn. 200, 161 N.W. 524; Mackall v. Ratchford, C.C., 82 F. 41; Baltic Mining Co. v. Circuit Judge, 177 Mich. 632, 144 N.W. 209; Jefferson & Indiana Coal Co. v. Marks, 287 Pa. 171, 134 A. 430, 47 A.L.R. 745.

Defendants testified that they went to Lyle for the purpose of stopping and searching trucks traveling on the highway; that they [202 Minn. 385] turned on the automobile lights, stood in the highway, and signaled the trucks to stop to carry out that purpose. The right to travel upon a highway does not privilege any person to commit, without lawful justification, any act whereby the exercise of the public right of passage is obstructed or rendered dangerous. Salmond on Torts, 9th Ed., 290. Any conduct which has this effect is a public nuisance and is a crime against the order and economy of this state. 2 Mason's Minn.St.1927, § 10241. Since the purpose of this statute is to secure to every one the enjoyment of a public right, the violation of the statute does not give a private individual a cause of action if the only wrong he suffers is one common to all members of the public, that is, if the exercise of his right of travel only is impeded. Restatement, Torts, § 288(b), and comment. But if it is shown that he has suffered some special damage, harm to his person or property, because of the unlawful obstruction of his right, the person violating the statute is civilly liable. Harper on Torts, § 190; Clerk & Lindsell on Torts, 9th Ed., 457; Pollock on Torts, 13th Ed., 419; Salmond on Torts, 9th Ed., 293.

The intentional invasion of the rights of another has been termed willful negligence. However willful such act may be, it is in no sense negligent. The very fact that an act is characterized as negligent indicates that harm to another as the result of it was neither foreseen nor intended, although a reasonable man would have foreseen danger to others because of it and would have adopted another course of conduct. Willful negligence embraces conduct where the infringement of another's right is not only intended, but also it is foreseen that the conduct pursued will result in such invasion. Mueller v. Dewey, 159 Minn. 173, 198 N.W. 428; Anderson v. Commissioner of Int. Rev., 10 Cir., 81 F.2d 457, 104 A.L.R. 676; Restatement, Torts § 282, comments c, d, § 500 comments f, g.

Admittedly, defendants intended to invade plaintiff's right to the reasonable use of the highway for purposes of travel. Where an action is based on an unintentional [279 N.W. 230] invasion of another's right, the contributory...

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