Hasselrode v. Gnagey

Decision Date26 June 1961
Citation404 Pa. 549,172 A.2d 764
PartiesFred L. HASSELRODE, Appellant, v. William D. GNAGEY, Trading and Doing Business as Gnagey Dairy Company, Defendant, and Frank Roscoe Carnegie, Additional Defendant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Archibald M. Matthews, Somerset, Palmer & Elkins, Charleston, W. Va., Edward O. Spotts, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Fike & Cascio, Paul E. C. Fike, Courtney & Courtney, James O. Courtney, Jr., Joseph N. Cascio, Somerset, for appellees.

Before CHARLES ALVIN JONES, C. J., and MUSMANNO, BENJAMIN R. JONES, COHEN, BOK and EAGEN, JJ.

BENJAMIN R. JONES, Justice.

This appeal requires the construction and interpretation of a release given by an injured person in relinquishment of his claims for personal injury damages.

Fred L. Hasselrode [Hasselrode], on August 24, 1956, was a passenger in an automobile driven by Frank R. Carnegie [Carnegie] when it collided with a truck owned by William D. Gnagey trading as Gnagey Dairy Company [Dairy Company] and, as a result of this accident, Hasselrode sustained personal injuries. On December 19, 1956, Carnegie paid Hasselrode $1,518.87 and Carnegie received from Hasselrode a release reciting, inter alia, that he '* * * remised, released, and forever discharged, and by these presents do for myself, my heirs, executors and administrators and assigns, remise, release and forever discharge the said Frank R. Carnegie, his successors and assigns, and/or his, her, their and each of their associates, heirs, executors and administrators, and any and all other persons, associations and corporations, whether herein named or referred to or not, of and from any and every claim, demand, right, or cause of action, of whatsoever kind or nature, either in law or in equity, arising from or by reason of any bodily and/or personal injuries known or unknown sustained by me, and/or damage to property, or otherwise, as the result of a certain accident which happened on or about the 24th day of August, 1956, for which I have claimed the said Frank R. Carnegie to be legally liable, but this release shall not be construed as an admission of such liability.'

On August 1, 1958, Hasselrode instituted a trespass action in the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County against the Dairy Company for damages arising out of the accident. The Dairy Company joined Carnegie as an additional defendant and Carnegie, by way of answer, averred that he was discharged of any liability by reason of the release given him by Hasselrode. The Dairy Company answered the new matter pleaded by Carnegie and then amended its own answer to plead the release given by Hasselrode to Carnegie as a defense to Hasselrode's action against the Dairy Company. Hasselrode filed a reply averring that the release given to Carnegie was not intended to, nor did it, release the Dairy Company. The court below entered a judgment on the pleadings against Hasselrode and in favor of both the Dairy Company and Carnegie; from this judgment, Hasselrode now appeals.

Did the release given by Hasselrode to Carnegie effect a discharge of Hasselrode's claim against the Dairy Company?

The Uniform Contribution Among Tort Feasors Act 1 provides, inter alia: 'A release by the injured person of one joint tortfeasor, whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the other tortfeasors unless the release so provides, but reduces the claim against the other tortfeasors in the amount of the consideration paid for the release or in any amount or proportion by which the release provides that the total claim shall be reduced if greater than the consideration paid'. (Emphasis supplied.) Did the instant release 'so provide' a discharge of the Dairy Company by Hasselrode?

An examination of this release indicates its breadth and comprehension. By its terms, Hasselrode released not only Carnegie, but 'any and all' other persons, associations and corporations regardless of whether they are named or referred to in the release. Not only are the persons released all inclusive but such persons are released of 'any and every' claim or cause of action arising out of the accident of August 24, 1956. The intent of the parties must be gleaned from the language of the release: such language clearly and unequivocally shows the intent of the parties that Hasselrode was releasing his claims not only against Carnegie but against 'any and all' persons, including the Dairy Company, involved in the accident of August 24, 1956.

In Hilbert v. Roth, 395 Pa. 270, 275, 149 A.2d 648, 651, Mr. Justice McBride, speaking for this Court, stated: 'Hence we believe that in § 4 the legislature quite reasonably enacted that such a release is not a discharge of other tortfeasors unless it specifically so states.' The instant release measures up to the standard suggested in Hilbert. While the Dairy Company's name is not specifically set forth in this release, the release does provide that all persons whether specifically 'named or referred to' therein are released from liability. The release could not and need not have been more specific and it was, therefore, not necessary to designate the Dairy Company therein.

Our examination of this release indicates that it meets the standard required by the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, supra, and that it effectuated a release not only of Carnegie but also of the Dairy Company. No other result can logically be arrived at without torturing, misconstruing and, in effect, rewriting the language of the release given by Hasselrode to Carnegie.

Judgment affirmed.

MUSMANNO, J., files a dissenting opinion.

EAGEN, J., dissents.

MUSMANNO. Justice (dissenting).

The purpose of law is to achieve justice; the purpose of language is to convey the meaning of the persons using it; the purpose of the courts is to plumb the depths of reality and on the unbudgeable foundation of established fact found a proper judgment. The record does not demonstrate that these three desiderata have found fulfillment in the case at bar. The following are the essentials in the matter. The plaintiff Fred L. Hasselrode was injured when the automobile in which he was a guest and being driven by a Frank R. Carnegie, was struck by a truck belonging to William D. Gnagey trading as Gnagey Dairy Company.

Desirous of discharging his obligations in the affair, Carnegie paid to Hasselrode the sum of $1,517.87 and received from him a release discharging him from all liabilities predicated upon the accident.

At the time that Carnegie and Hasselrode entered into their negotiations and eventual agreement, nothing was said about the Dairy Company's responsibilities. There was no intention on the part of either of these two parties to immunize the Dairy Company from its liabilities. In fact the Dairy Company did not even know of the agreement made between Carnegie and Hasselrode and assuredly paid no part of the $1,517.87 received by Hasselrode.

Later Hasselrode brought an action in trespass against the defendant Dairy Company charging it with negligence for causing the accident and claiming $10, 000 damages. The Dairy Company joined Carnegie as an additional defendant, whereupon, by Answer duly filed, Carnegie revealed that he was discharged of all liability in the controversy since he had made a settlement with Hasselrode. In support of that averment he attached to his Answer a copy of the release given him by Hasselrode. The release provided, inter alia:

'Have remised, released, and forever discharged * * * Frank R. Carnegie * * * and any and all other persons, associations, and corporations, whether herein named or referred to or not, of and from any and every claim, demand, right, or cause of action of whatever nature, either in law or equity arising from or by reason of any bodily and/or personal injuries known or unknown * * * as a result of a certain accident which happened on the 24th day of August, 1956, for which I have claimed the said Frank R. Carnegie to be legally liable, but this release shall not be construed as an admission of suit liability.' (Words capitalized and italicized were written, all other words printed.)

This agreement was a printed form, a stereotyped model used in paltry cases of settlement between potential creditors and debtors, involving no complicated details. The Dairy Company has seized upon the hackneyed language in the form to deny any responsibility to Hasselrode. In doing this, it takes a very audacious position. It knows very well that it did not pay a penny of the $1,517.87 received by Hasselrode, it knows very well also that it in no way participated in the negotiations between Hasselrode and Carnegie. It knows, in addition, that its involvement in the accident was not referred to in the remotest fashion in the agreement. In short, the Dairy Company was as much a stranger to the agreement as if it had been negotiated by two persons in India.

Nevertheless, the Dairy Company claims that the agreement, to which and of which it was no part, has now released it of all legal liability toward Hasselrode who was injured as the result of its negligence. In taking up this extraordinary position, the Dairy Company wants to reap where it did not sow, to build where it owns no land, to dance where it paid no fiddler, to milk where it fed no cow. Human nature being what it is, one can understand the boldness and cupidity of such a pretension, but what is surprising is that this Court, by its decision of today, in effect supplies the defendant with a stool and a pail to proceed with its unabashed milking operation.

The Majority Opinion makes no reference to the law of consideration. Is it not involved here? On what possible basis is the Gnagey Dairy Company allowed to carry away the milk, cream and butter of an agreement to which it contributed not a penny, not an effort, not even a thought? The Dairy Company is as much a foreigner to the agreement as if it had been...

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