Koob v. Schmolt, 47765

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation241 Iowa 1294,45 N.W.2d 216
Docket NumberNo. 47765,47765
Decision Date12 December 1950

Page 216

45 N.W.2d 216
241 Iowa 1294

No. 47765.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Dec. 12, 1950.

[241 Iowa 1295] Zastrow & Noah, of Charles City, and R. J. Sullivan, of New Hampton, for appellant.

Reed & Beers, of Waterloo, and E. P. Donohue, of New Hampton, for appellee.

SMITH, Justice.

I. Was there sufficient evidence of defendant's alleged negligence to carry that issue to the jury? That is the principal question on this appeal.

[241 Iowa 1296] On May 29, 1949, at approximately 4:30 P.M. plaintiff, aged 23, was riding on the 'buddy seat' of a motorcycle driven by Wallace Lynes, aged 20. They were traveling southward on paved highway 218. About a mile and a half south of Nashua the highway curves to the right in a westerly direction. As they approached this curve from the north defendant's car came toward it from the south. Lynes decided he could not make the curve. So instead of following

Page 217

his own lane around to the right he went forward to the left side of the curve to the shoulder.

He testifies on cross-examination they had been traveling around eighty miles per hour 'a quarter of a mile back and when I approached the curve I was traveling 55 or 60 when I started to cross.' (That would be from 80 2/3 to 88 feet per second.) He estimates defendant's car coming toward him was 'a little better than three hundred feet' away when he 'started to go across the black line onto the left hand side of the road.' 'Q. Let me ask you one thing more. Did you expect this woman to turn to her left hand side of the road to avoid hitting you? A. I would say she could have. I didn't expect her to, although she could have done it easily enough.'

He also testifies on cross-examination:

'Q. You rounded that curve at about--great speed? A. I imagine it would be.

'Q. And the emergency there was created by you, wasn't it? A. Yes.

'Q. You knew you were on the wrong side of the highway. A. Yes.'

The theory of the plaintiff is probably best indicated by this part of Lynes' direct examination: 'I came down the hill and as I approached the curve I didn't feel that I could make the curve on the inside, which is the short side of the curve, so I went to the left hand side, took the shoulder and came around the curve; and them as I hit the shoulder I saw a car driven by Mrs. Schmolt. I had slowed down and she began to creep over to the gutter on my left hand side--well it would be my right hand side at that time--and as I approached the car, about 25 feet or so in front of the car, she began to turn to the curbing and then we had a collision and that's about as much as I know at that time.

'Q. Tell us what you observed that car do? A. That car slowed down. I noticed that immediately. Down to what I would [241 Iowa 1297] say ten miles an hour. She crept towards the gutter, made no appearance of going onto the shoulder till the last few moments. And the front wheel of the car wasn't touched as I remember.

'Q. What was the distance between your motocycle and the east edge of the pavement? A. I would say my judgment would be about four and a half or five feet. * * *

'Q. How long had you been traveling on the shoulder prior to the collision? A. Around 240 feet.'

On cross-examination he testifies: 'Q. You got down to 65 or 70 miles an hour? A. No, I would say 40 or 45, 35, along in there.'

Thirty-five miles per hour equals 51 1/3 feet per second. If defendant was approaching at 10 miles per hour they neared each other at 45 miles per hour, or 66 feet per second. The figures indicate the almost instantaneous character of the transaction upon which the jury would be asked to find defendant negligent if plaintiff's contention were to prevail. These are the figures most favorable to plaintiff. According to them the motorcycle was on the shoulder only about three seconds and the defendant 'began to turn to the curbing' or 'to creep over to the gutter' less than a half second before the collision.

Lynes' is the only testimony plaintiff offers as to defendant's alleged negligence. He at no time says she left the pavement. He testifies at one point: 'As I came towards her on the shoulder she got as far as the gutter.' She was at all times on her own side of the highway. Even in the view most favorable to the plaintiff the jury, in order to find for plaintiff, would have had to infer or presume negligence on defendant's part instead of placing the burden on plaintiff to prove it and indulging the presumption of due care in plaintiff's favor.

Defendant properly argues: 'The plaintiff's witness (Lynes) states he was 4 1/2 to 5 feet on the shoulder east of the slab, but the nearest he gets the defendant to that point is 'she crept to the gutter' and 'to the curb' on the east side of the paving. He at no place states that the defendant went off the pavement, onto the shoulder and struck the motorcycle. So far as the record discloses the motorcycle[241 Iowa 1298] might just as well have veered to its right toward the car and thus caused the collision.'

Page 218

II. In determining whether the Record would justify submission of the issue of defendant's negligence to the jury we should take into account the emergency that confronted defendant under this Record. Rich v. Herny, 222 Iowa 465, 269 N.W. 489; Carstensen v. Thomsen, 215 Iowa 427, 245 N.W. 734. That is a factor in determining the reasonable character of the acts of one in such a situation. Restatement Law of Torts, Section 296.

Plaintiff argues 'the defendant did not (claim) and has not claimed that an emergency existed * * *.' It is not clear on what this argument is based. Defendant did not need to plead emergency. McKeever v. Batcheler, 219 Iowa 93, 95, 96, 257 N.W. 567. Certainly it was urged in her motion to direct and is argued here.

Notwithstanding an intimation in one of our cases that the doctrine of emergency is available only to establish freedom from contributory negligence, Cubbage v. Conrad Youngerman's Estate, 155 Iowa 39, 50, 134 N.W. 1074, it clearly is to be considered in any case in which is involved the conduct of a person who is put in peril not of his own creation. Boice v. Des Moines City Ry. Co., 153 Iowa 472, 476, 477, 133 N.W. 657; McKeever v. Batcheler, supra; Rich v. Herny, supra; 65 C.J.S., Negligence, § 17a, p. 411.

That was defendant's situation here. She was in peril through no act of her own. When the motorcycle started across in front of her she had to make an immediate decision. Under the Record she had approximately three seconds in which to make it. She slowed down to ten miles per hour. She could not know it was Lynes' intention to go clear over to his left and pass her on her right. For aught she could at first know, he was merely swerving to her side and would return to his own.

No wonder she 'began to creep over to the gutter' or to 'turn to the curbing.' And if, in the emergency not created by her, she mistakenly guessed wrong her decision should not be submitted to the jury as evidence of negligence. The suddenness of the emergency presented was such that it cannot be said 'an ordinarily prudent person would not have acted in the same [241 Iowa 1299] manner under the same circumstances.' Rich v. Herny, supra, 222 Iowa, at page 470, 269 N.W. at page 492.

'One is confronted with a sudden emergency, without sufficient time to determine with certainty the best course to pursue, is not held to the same accuracy of judgment as would be required of him if he had time for deliberation.' 65 C.J.S., Negligence, § 17a, p. 408; 38 Am.Jur., Negligence, § 41.

We have pointed out that the figures of plaintiff's own witness show the imminency of the emergency confronting defendant. If it be thought we are dealing in refinements we can only reply in the language of the Missouri Supreme Court: 'To predicate negligence on two seconds of time is in and of itself a monumental refinement.' Rollinson v. Wabash R. Co., 252 Mo. 525, 541, 160 S.W. 994, 999, cited in Goodson v. Schwandt, 318 Mo. 666, 669, 300 S.W. 795, 796, and Hamilton v. Finch, 166 Or. 156, 109 P.2d 852, 855, 111 P.2d 81.

III. Defendant argues earnestly that plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law and that the motion to direct was properly sustained for that reason also.

We need not discuss this proposition since what we have already said is determinative of the case.

The decision of the trial court is accordingly affirmed.



GARFIELD, C. J., and OLIVER and BLISS, JJ., dissent.

OLIVER, Justice (dissenting).

I believe the order directing a verdict for defendant at the conclusion of the evidence for plaintiff was erroneous and I respectfully dissent from the decision affirming it.


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14 cases
  • Strom v. Des Moines & Central Iowa Ry. Co., 49130
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 7 May 1957
    ...approved the statement, 'To predicate neglgience on two seconds of time is in and of itself a monumental refinement.' Koob v. Schmolt, 241 Iowa 1294, 1299, 45 N.W.2d 216, 218; Menke v. Peterschmidt, 246 Iowa 722, 733, 69 N.W.2d 65, 72. In resistance to plaintiff's contention the last clear ......
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    ...not ordinarily be predicated on an emergency confronting a driver who has only two or three seconds to make a decision. Koob v. Schmolt, 241 Iowa 1294, 1298, 1299, 45 N.W.2d 216, 218. Something better than an opportunity for the jury to guess must be furnished by the one who assumes the bur......
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    ...when so confronted, is a question for the jury, 65 C.J.S. Negligence § 252a, it also recognized the rule announced in Koob v. Schmolt, 241 Iowa 1294, 45 N.W.2d 216, and cited in Menke v. Peterschmidt, 246 Iowa 722, 733, 69 N.W.2d 65. It is there said that negligence should not ordinarily be......
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