Kerrigan v. Detroit Steel Corp.

Decision Date07 July 1959
Citation146 Conn. 658,154 A.2d 517
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesGeorge KERRIGAN v. DETROIT STEEL CORPORATION et al. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

DeLancey Pelgrift and Robert Y. Pelgrift, Hartford, for appellants (defendants).

Theodore I. Koskoff, Bridgeport, with whom were Francis J. Moran, New Haven, and Frank J. Hennessy, Bridgeport, for appellee (plaintiff).

Before DALY, C. J., and KING, MELLITZ, BALDWIN and MURPHY, JJ.

KING, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff, a pedestrian, recovered damages for personal injuries claimed to have been sustained when he was struck by a tractor-trailer truck owned by the named defendant and operated by its admitted agent, the defendant Adam C. Schmaelzle. The basic question on this appeal is whether the evidence supports a verdict for the plaintiff. The defendants claim not only that the evidence fails to support a conclusion that the defendant operator was negligent but also that it requires as matter of law a conclusion that the plaintiff was chargeable with contributory negligence. The court denied the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and their alternative motion to set aside the verdict as against the evidence.

'While our rule as to the setting aside of a verdict as against the evidence has been stated in a variety of ways, the rule itself has remained unchanged. If, on the evidence as presented and under the pleadings, the jury could have reasonably found in accordance with the verdict as rendered, then it cannot be set aside as against the evidence.' Goodman v. Norwalk Jewish Center, Inc., 145 Conn. 146, 154, 139 A.2d 812, 816. '[T]he evidence must be given the most favorable construction in support of the verdict of which it is reasonably capable.' Horvath v. Tontini, 126 Conn. 462, 464, 11 A.2d 846, 847. The facts which the jury might have found will be summarized.

The Boston Post Road, in Fairfield, consists of four nine-foot lanes, the two nearest the center line being blacktop and the other two concrete. The shoulders are blacktop and the one to the south is eleven feet wide. Sullivan's Grill is on the south side in the middle of a block. January 11, 1955, was a clear day and the roadway was dry. At about 3:20 p. m., the defendants' tractor-trailer truck was proceeding easterly, on the outer concrete lane, at a speed of ten to twelve miles per hour. About 250 feet east of Sullivan's Grill was Miller Street, and about 300 feet farther east was Reef Road. An overhead traffic light at the Reef Road intersection also controlled traffic at the Miller Street intersection. The plaintiff, a route salesman for a laundry company, had parked his truck on the north side of the Post Road to solicit the business of Sullivan's Grill. Upon leaving the grill to return to his truck, he walked between the cars which were parked on the south shoulder three or four feet in from the concrete lane, stopped at the south edge of that lane, looked to the left and saw the defendants' oncoming truck some 200 feet away with no intervening traffic, looked to the right to observe the Reef Road traffic light to ascertain when it would turn red and thereby stop traffic at the Miller Street intersection, started to turn his head back, and was struck. As a pedestrian, especially standing on the shoulder, even though at the edge of the south lane, he was not without rights. Caschetto v. Silliman & Godfrey Co., 126 Conn. 22, 24, 9 A.2d 286.

The truck was being operated with the right rear wheel of the tractor and the right wheels of the trailer six inches in from the south edge of the concrete lane, more or less. The plaintiff did not actually see the truck strike him, and the defendant operator did not see the plaintiff at all. Both parties relied to a considerable extent on circumstantial evidence. Hennessey v. Hennessey, 145 Conn. 211, 214, 140 A.2d 473. It was the plaintiff's claim that the lower right front corner of the trailer struck him, knocking him to the pavement. There was no real dispute that he was run over by the right rear wheel of the trailer. The jury, were not required to accept the defendants'evidence that the plaintiff fell in the road under the trailer as it was passing. Indeed, its minimum ground clearance was but nine inches. The plaintiff's claim was fortified by the lack of intervening traffic and the brush marks found at the lower right front corner of the otherwise dusty trailer. The distance between the outer edges of the front wheels on the tractor was eighty-four inches, and between the outer edges of the dual rear wheels, ninety-six inches. The corresponding measurements for the dual-wheeled trailer were also ninety-six inches, and the rear wheels of the tractor as well as the wheels of the trailer were about flush with the trailer body.

While the case was not a strong one, the jury could reasonably find that the plaintiff was standing still on the south shoulder at the edge of the concrete lane; that the defendant operator was negligent in not seeing him there and either sounding his horn or swerving to avoid the danger that the plaintiff would be struck by the trailer, which was wider than the front of the tractor; and that the operator's failure so to do was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's being hit by the trailer, knocked down and then run over by its right rear wheel. Palombizio v. Murphy, 146 Conn. 352, 357, 150 A.2d 825. Whether this court would have so decided as the trier of the fact is immaterial. Horvath v. Tontini, 126 Conn. 462, 464, 11 A.2d 846. We are concerned only with what the jury could find on the evidence construed most favorably to the plaintiff. While the absence of evidence of injury on the left side of the plaintiff's head weakens his case, it cannot be said that as matter of law it prevented the jury from finding that he was grazed and knocked down by the trailer.

Although it turned out that the plaintiff should have stood farther in on the shoulder, it was not necessary that the jury find that in the exercise of reasonable care he should have known this, especially in the light of the difference in width...

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