Jimenez v. Morgan Drive Away, Inc., A99A0597.

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Citation519 S.E.2d 722,238 Ga. App. 638
Docket NumberNo. A99A0597.,A99A0597.
PartiesJIMENEZ et al. v. MORGAN DRIVE AWAY, INC. et al.
Decision Date23 June 1999


Falanga & Chalker, Robert A. Falanga, David S. Bills, Atlanta, for appellants.

Dennis, Corry & Porter, Frederick D. Evans III, Atlanta, Albert M. Yates III, Marietta, Donahue, Hoey, Rawls & Skedsvold, Craig R. White, Atlanta, for appellee.

JOHNSON, Chief Judge.

This case arises out of an accident in which a tractor-trailer pulling an oversize load struck a disabled truck as it sat in the emergency lane of the highway. The injured driver of the disabled truck and his wife sued the tractor-trailer driver, his employer, and the employer's insurance carrier. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants. In this appeal, we decide whether the trial court erred in giving the defendants' requested charges on the principles of assumption of risk, comparative and contributory negligence, and sudden emergency. Under the circumstances presented here, we find the assumption of risk charge should not have been given and reverse the judgment of the trial court. The other enumerated errors are without merit or were not preserved.

The transcript reveals that Leonardo Jimenez was driving a pickup truck eastbound on I-285 when the clutch malfunctioned. The truck lost its power and Jimenez steered the disabled vehicle onto the paved emergency shoulder just before the Bouldercrest Road exit ramp. According to Jimenez, he parked the truck four to five feet to the right of the white fog line, well inside the emergency shoulder and off the roadway. The pickup truck was eight feet wide, and the emergency lane was eleven feet, three inches wide. Jimenez got out of the truck and knelt down in front of the truck to inspect it.

Steve O'Neal was part of a four-person team hauling mobile homes which were between 13 ½ feet and 14 feet wide. The team was traveling on I-675. O'Neal's partner was in front, pulling one mobile home; he was followed by an escort, then O'Neal, then O'Neal's escort. The vehicles were all at least 100 feet apart, and the escort vehicle traveling in front of O'Neal was "a good piece" in front of him.

O'Neal, following his partner and the partner's escort, drove his tractor-trailer onto the I-675 exit ramp to enter I-285 eastbound. When O'Neal got to the bottom of the ramp, he began building his speed so as to merge with the traffic on I-285. After he got off the ramp and into the travel lane, O'Neal's partner informed him by radio that a truck was parked "close to the right (emergency) line." The travel lanes were only 11 ¾ feet wide; thus, the mobile homes extended beyond the travel lanes, on one side or the other, and sometimes on both sides. O'Neal's partner, the partner's escort, and dozens of other cars and tractor-trailers successfully passed the truck. O'Neal radioed his own escort who was traveling behind him, warned him of the situation and advised him to change lanes. O'Neal attempted to change lanes but was unable to do so because a tractor-trailer was traveling in the lane next to him. In an effort to avoid hitting the disabled truck, O'Neal applied his brakes and moved his truck as far to the left of his lane as he could. O'Neal's tractor made it past Jimenez's truck, but the mobile home he was hauling struck the rear of the truck. Jimenez was knocked under his truck and severely injured. The collision occurred three to five minutes after Jimenez parked his truck on the emergency shoulder.

Jimenez and his wife, Debra Chambers, sued O'Neal, O'Neal's employer, Morgan Drive Away, Inc., and Empire Fire and Marine Insurance (collectively "Morgan Drive Away"). Jimenez and Chambers appeal from the judgment entered on the jury's verdict.

1. We agree with Jimenez and Chambers that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on assumption of risk.
Assumption of risk assumes that the actor, without coercion of circumstances, chooses a course of action with full knowledge of its danger and while exercising a free choice as to whether to engage in the act or not.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Henderson v. Lowe's Home Centers, 234 Ga. App. 573, 507 S.E.2d 159 (1998). "The knowledge requirement does not refer to a plaintiff's comprehension of general, non-specific risks that might be associated with such conditions or activities." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Trustees of Trinity College v. Ferris, 228 Ga.App. 476, 479(3), 491 S.E.2d 909 (1997).

In this case there was no evidence that Jimenez knowingly chose a dangerous course of conduct, fully appreciating the particular risk of harm associated with his conduct. Indeed, by steering his disabled truck out of the travel lanes and onto the paved emergency shoulder the evidence shows he was attempting to prevent a collision. Since there was no evidence that Jimenez voluntarily exposed himself to the danger of being struck while on the emergency shoulder, he did not assume the risk of the injury incurred. See generally Sutton v. Sumner, 224 Ga.App. 857, 860, 482 S.E.2d 486 (1997); Beringause v. Fogleman Truck Lines, 200 Ga.App. 822, 824-825(4), 409 S.E.2d 524 (1991); Meacham v. Barber, 183 Ga.App. 533, 537(3), 359 S.E.2d 424 (1987).

Morgan Drive Away argues Jimenez assumed the risk of injury by not parking the truck fully inside the emergency lane and by driving the truck onto the highway when he knew the clutch was malfunctioning. We disagree.

First, even if the truck was not completely in the emergency lane, an assumption of risk charge was not justified. There was no evidence that Jimenez exercised free choice as to where he would park the truck. See generally Henderson, supra. Indeed, the evidence indicates that the truck Jimenez was driving lost all power and coasted to a stop.

Second, Jimenez's decision to drive onto the highway and then park the truck off the roadway cannot be found to evince his consent that other drivers not use care to watch for and avoid hitting his truck. See Beringause, supra at 823(4), 409 S.E.2d 524.

This is not the type of situation contemplated by the assumption of risk defense. Assumption of risk means that the plaintiff knows of the danger and intelligently acquiesces in it. Gaffron v. MARTA, 229 Ga.App. 426, 431(2), 494 S.E.2d 54 (1997). Assumption of risk further "means that the plaintiff, in advance, has given his consent to relieve the defendant of an obligation of conduct toward him, and to take his chances of injury from a known risk arising from what the defendant is to do or leave undone." (Citation omitted.) Vaughn v. Pleasent, 266 Ga. 862, 864(1), 471 S.E.2d 866 (1996).

Jimenez's knowledge of the dangers of driving a truck on the highway when the clutch is malfunctioning and parking a disabled truck in the emergency lane is not sufficient to establish knowledge that a vehicle would come into the emergency lane and...

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    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 69-1, September 2017
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