Jackson v. City of Seattle, 28676.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtDRIVER, Justice.
Citation15 Wn.2d 505,131 P.2d 172
Docket Number28676.
Decision Date25 November 1942

131 P.2d 172

15 Wn.2d 505

JACKSON et ux.

No. 28676.

Supreme Court of Washington

November 25, 1942

Department 2.

Action by Joseph G. Jackson and Gertrude A. Jackson, his wife, against the City of Seattle, to recover for personal injuries sustained by wife in alighting from a city bus. From a judgment for defendant entered on a verdict, plaintiffs appeal.

Reversed and remanded with directions to grant new trial. [131 P.2d 173]

Appeal from Superior Court, King County; Roger J. Meakim, judge.

Allen, Froude & Hilen, (now Allen, Hilen, Froude & DeGarmo), of Seattle, for appellant.

A. C. Van Soelen and John A. Logan, both of Seattle, for respondent.

DRIVER, Justice.

This is an appeal by the plaintiffs from a judgment entered on a verdict in a personal injury action in favor of defendant city. Appellants assign as error the giving of two instructions and the refusal of the trial court to give an instruction requested by them. The assignments raise two questions: First, was the evidence sufficient to take the issue of contributory negligence to the jury; and, second, did the evidence warrant the giving of an instruction on the theory of unavoidable accident.

These questions will be discussed in the order stated, and only so much of the evidence as is pertinent thereto will be reviewed.

In the city of Seattle, east-west East 55th street and north-south 33rd avenue Northeast meet to form a 'T' intersection, 33rd extending to the north, but not to [15 Wn.2d 507] the south, of 55th. Along that portion of the southerly margin of East 55th street which forms the closed end of the intersection, there is a concrete curb of the usual type and a concrete sidewalk. The walk is separated from the curb by a grass-grown parking strip nineteen inches wide. South of the walk, there is another grass strip extending to the wire boundary line fence of Calvary cemetery. Several feet east of the intersection, a telephone pole stands in the parking strip.

Respondent city operates a municipal passenger bus system, and, on June 10, 1940, at about 4:30 p. m., appellant wife [131 P.2d 174] (henceforth she will be referred to as though she were the only appellant) was a passenger on one of its vehicles traveling east on 55th and approaching the intersection just described. She gave the usual signal, and the bus driver pulled over to the curb at the south side of the street and stopped to let her out. In the act of alighting, she stepped into a hole in the parking strip and fell, suffering the injuries for which she brought suit.

According to the undisputed testimony of appellant and two other witnesses, the bus did not have a regular stopping place at the intersection in question. Sometimes it stopped west of the telephone pole, at other times east of it; and, on some stops, the pole would be opposite the center of the bus. One witness said it was a new route and the bus stops were not definitely located or marked until sometime after the accident. Appellant further testified:

'Well I was in the front of the bus. I got off at the front entrance and stepping down from the bottom step I stepped onto the parking strip, which was heavy with grass and I stepped into a hole and fell flat on my face onto the concrete sidewalk. I had no way of catching myself. I was surprised and there was no way of helping myself in any way shape or form. I had a couple of packages in my hand
'Q. What did you have [15 Wn.2d 508] in your packages? A. I had some tarts,--the other I had a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread, but it was not a large loaf.'

On cross-examination, appellant said:

'Q. Did the bus drive up any differently this time than any previous occasion? A. It drove up to the curbing right by the telephone post. I looked to see whether I could get down. It was too far over to step to the sidewalk, so I stepped to the parking strip. * * *

'Q. You knew that parking strip was there, did you not? A. Certainly.

'Q. As you stepped did you look? A. I did. I always do.

'Q. Did you see the hole there? A. I did not.

'Q. Did you ever see the hole? A. No, I would not have stepped into the hole if I saw it.

'Q. I am not arguing,--I am asking if you saw a hole, and if so, kindly describe it to the jury. A. I saw a place to step and I stepped in there. It was clover and heavy bunch grass. * * *

'Q. Did you avail yourself of the handholds in stepping off? A. I did that.

'Q. You didn't on this occasion? A. Yes.

'Q. You did and stepped down? A. When I let go I was on the bottom step.

'Q. Your packages were in one arm? A. All in one hand.

'Q. So you held with the other? A. Yes.'

Appellant's account of the manner in which she got off the bus is not contradicted in any way, and the only testimony which could possibly have any bearing on the question of her contributory negligence was that of three firemen from a nearby fire station who, shortly after the accident, examined the parking strip at the place where appellant said she fell. One of them stated on direct examination:

'Q. Did you go across the street and make an examination of the situation and the pole? A. I did.

'Q. What did you find there, Mr. Hinkston? A. There was a couple of holes there and the grass grew up around them. I guess this one was three or four inches deep. The other was a small impression in the grass.

'Q. Where these holes East or West of the pole? A. West of the telephone pole. * * * Well, just West of the pole,--I would estimate it may be a foot away from the pole [15 Wn.2d 509] was one hole. It looked like it had been a telephone pole taken out at some time and dirt had settled or a rock or something of that order. Then there was one a couple of feet from that and the grass had grown around there pretty well. That was a couple of inches or three inches deep, I should imagine. It is below the level of the ground.' (Italics ours.)

On cross-examination, he testified:

'Q. The other hole, where was that with relation to the telephone pole? A. A couple of feet.

'Q. Was that a round depression in the grass? A. That is what I would interpret it.

'Q. Nothing gouged out manually by some one digging? A. I could not hardly say it was dug up by some one digging. There was a little depression full of grass.'

Another fireman testified:

'Q. Did you examine conditions around the pole where she was standing? A. Yes, I went over there and saw the hole that [131 P.2d 175] was there. As a matter of fact, there was two holes there, more or less covered by grass and weeds, that had been made there, I don't know how. They were there. I could see they were holes.

'Q. How deep were those holes? A. I would say anywhere,--two...

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    ...233 (Wash 1974) (involving a case where "no evidence" of contributory negligence was elicited) (citing Jackson v. Seattle, 15 Wash.2d 505, 131 P.2d 172 (1942)) (emphasis added). Thus, if there is evidence from which contributory negligence may be reasonably inferred; e.g., Steffen's admissi......
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