Krueger v. Taylor, Civ. A. No. 3353.

Decision Date05 March 1941
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 3353.
Citation37 F. Supp. 412
PartiesKRUEGER et al. v. TAYLOR.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Earl H. Davis and Lester Wood, both of Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

Frost, Myers & Towers, of Washington, D. C., for defendant.

ADKINS, Justice.

The question in this case is whether defendant's negligence was gross or ordinary.

The accident occurred in Virginia, on Sunday February 13, 1938. Defendant owned and drove a new Ford car in which plaintiffs and a Mrs. Taylor were riding when the car struck a tree causing the injuries to plaintiffs. Defendant was the adopted son of Mrs. Taylor. Plaintiffs are husband and wife; the female plaintiff was the niece of Mrs. Taylor, at whose home all the litigants lived.

Defendant, an inexperienced driver, bought the car in January, and obtained his driver's license about ten days before the accident. Mrs. Taylor desired to visit a sister of Mrs. Krueger who lived in Urbana. Defendant invited plaintiffs to accompany Mrs. Taylor and himself on the trip.

The day was bright and clear. The party started about 8 o'clock a. m. and the accident occurred three to four hours later about ten miles before reaching Urbana. Shortly before the accident Mr. Krueger offered to take the wheel but defendant preferred to complete the trip himself.

Of the eyewitnesses only the testimony of Mr. Krueger and defendant was important so far as the accident was concerned.

The accident occurred at a gradual left curve (about 22°). There was a slight upgrade just before the curve; the road was 15 feet wide, with macadam surface; there was a dirt shoulder but no ditch. The road, shoulder and grass surrounding the tree were on the same level. The tree with which defendant collided was 6 feet 3 inches from the right edge of the road and was visible for 200 feet. The tree struck the car between the front right wheel and fender, and the front axle was bent. The speed of the car — 25 to 30 miles an hour — was not excessive. There was no other traffic.

Mr. Krueger, who occupied the rear seat, testified that about 3 to 5 seconds before the accident he saw the car gradually leaving the road and called to defendant not to hit the tree.

Defendant testified that he was feeling tired; that he was driving in the middle of the road; and as he approached the curve desired to get on the right-hand side of the road and turned the wheel to the edge of the road; that he then saw the tree but could not remember what happened between that time and the collision; he estimated the tree to be 15 feet away when he turned to the edge of the road.

Defendant moved for a directed verdict on the ground that the evidence failed to show gross negligence. This motion being overruled, the jury found in favor of each plaintiff.

Defendant has now moved to set aside the verdict and to enter judgment for defendant, or, in the alternative, for a new trial.

Counsel agreed that under the Virginia law plaintiffs could not recover unless gross negligence was shown.

Counsel also agreed to the definition of gross negligence given by Rugg, C. J., in Altman v. Aronson, 231 Mass. 588, 591, 121 N.E. 505, 4 A.L.R. 1185, and approved in Thomas v. Snow, 162 Va. 654, 174 S.E. 837, and in Wright v. Osborne, 175 Va. 442, 9 S.E.2d 452. Accordingly the jury was charged as follows —

"Negligence, without qualification, and in its ordinary sense, is the failure of a responsible person, either by omission or by action, to exercise that degree of care, vigilance and forethought which, in the discharge of the duty then resting on him, the person of ordinary caution and prudence ought to exercise under the particular circumstances. It is a want of diligence commensurate with the requirement of the duty at the moment imposed by the law.

"Gross negligence is substantially and appreciably higher in magnitude than ordinary negligence. It is materially more want of care than constitutes simple inadvertence. It is an act or omission respecting legal duty of an aggravated character as distinguished from a mere failure to exercise ordinary care. It is very great negligence, or the absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care. It amounts to indifference to present legal duty and to utter forgetfulness of legal obligations so far as other persons may be affected. It is a needless and palpable violation of legal duty respecting the rights of others. The element of culpability which characterizes all negligence is in gross negligence magnified to a high degree as compared with that present in ordinary negligence. Gross negligence is a manifestly smaller amount of watchfulness and circumspection than the circumstances require of a person of ordinary prudence. * * * It falls short of being such reckless disregard of probable consequences as is equivalent to a wilful and intentional wrong. Ordinary and gross negligence differ in degree of inattention, while both differ in kind from willful and intentional conduct which is or ought to be known to have a tendency to injure. * * *

"Stated in somewhat different terms, gross negligence is that degree of negligence which shows an utter disregard of prudence amounting to complete neglect of the safety of...

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1 cases
  • Piedmont Resolution, L.L.C. v. Johnston, Rivlin & Foley
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • March 13, 1998 summary judgment on the gross negligence count. "[T]o be gross", negligence "should shock fair-minded men." Krueger v. Taylor, 37 F.Supp. 412, 413 (D.D.C.1941)(discussing jury instructions prior to setting aside jury verdict) affirmed 132 F.2d 736 (D.C.Cir. 1942). With the number of disp......

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