Mahoney v. Beatman

Decision Date07 November 1929
Citation110 Conn. 184,147 A. 762
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Appeal from Superior Court, Hartford County; L. P. Waldo Marvin Judge.

Action by Edward J. Mahoney against Joseph Beatman to recover damages for injury caused plaintiff's automobile by the alleged negligence of defendant, tried to the court. Judgment for plaintiff for $200 damages, and he appeals. Error, and judgment directed.

The court found these facts: On July 31, 1926, at about 7:50 p. m. daylight saving time, the chauffeur of plaintiff was driving his new English built Rolls Royce automobile southerly on the Hartford-New London turnpike at a speed of 60 miles an hour. At this time defendant was driving in a Nash car northerly on this turnpike. The defendant's car collided with the plaintiff's car two or three miles south of Colchester Center. There was no other traffic on the turnpike at this point, and as each car approached the other it was clearly visible; the road being straight for a distance of three-quarters of a mile. The road was dry, built of concrete, 18 feet in width, and with a gravel shoulder about 4 feet wide on each side. During a part of the time the cars were approaching each other the defendant had his head turned as if he was talking to persons on the rear seat; just before the collision he permitted his car to veer over onto the left side of the center of the highway, and when it was too late tried to head it back to his side of the road. Just prior to the collision the chauffeur of plaintiff's car drove it off the concrete onto the gravel shoulder on his right-hand side of the road to avoid the Nash, which was being driven into the path of the Rolls Royce. At the point of the collision the left wheels of the Rolls Royce were on the concrete and the right wheels were 2 feet over the shoulder of the road, while the right wheels of the Nash were approximately 7 1/2 feet from the east side (its right hand side) of the concrete surface. The left side of the Nash struck the hub caps of the left front wheel of the Rolls Royce and a spare wheel carried on its running board alongside the cowl of the driver's left, and also struck the fender at this point. The Rolls Royce was not injured in any other part by the impact. After the collision it traveled in a three-quarters or diagonal position a distance of 125 feet on the west side of the road southerly, and then suddenly turned across the road and traveled to the top of a sloping bank about 4 feet high where it struck a tree and knocked down a 2 1/2-foot stone wall and rolled over on its side. From the moment of collision until the car came to a complete stop the plaintiff's driver did not apply the brakes. The Nash slurred around, went through a fence on the west side of the road, and remained on its wheels. There was no injury to the front part of the Nash or to its passengers. Other damage done plaintiff's car not heretofore described did not occur until it struck the tree and stone wall. All of these last-mentioned damages to the car were due to the driver's inability to control or stop it after the collision because of the speed at which it was proceeding. The repairs to the Rolls Royce to restore it to as good a condition as before the accident were reasonably worth $5,850, which amount plaintiff paid for the repairs.

The court reached the following conclusions as of the time of collision:

1. The defendant's car was on the wrong side of the road.

2. The speed of plaintiff's car was unreasonable, but it did not contribute to the collision, which was due entirely to the negligence of the defendant.

3. The speed did, however, materially hamper plaintiff's chauffeur in controlling the car after the collision and owing to it he completely lost control of it.

4. Since the court was unable to find from the evidence the amount of damage caused at the time of the impact, the court found the plaintiff entitled to " nominal Damages," which were assessed at $200.

Maltbie J., dissenting.

Walfrid G. Lundborg, of Hartford, for appellant.

Abraham S. Bordon and Aaron Nassau, both of Hartford, for appellee.

Argued before WHEELER, C.J., and MALTBIE, HAINES, HINMAN, and BANKS, JJ.

WHEELER, C.J. (after stating the facts as above).

The trial court found that the collision between the automobiles of plaintiff and defendant was the result of defendant's negligence. The correctness of this conclusion is not, and cannot be, challenged. Probability of injury by one to the legally protected interests of another is the basis for the law's creation of a duty to avoid such injury. This duty is determined by what the reasonable man would or should do or would or should omit to do in like circumstances, and when its violation culminates in damage as a consequence of the violation and action will lie for the resulting damage. The defendant owed to the plaintiff and all travelers upon the highway the duty of exercising reasonable care in operating his car so that there might result from such operation no probability of harm to them. He breached that duty and the collision with defendant's car resulted, as a consequence, while traveling upon the highway.

The appeal does not question the existence of the negligence but the extent of the responsibility resulting in consequence of the negligence. The test of negligence--the measure of duty--and that for measuring or ascertaining liability resulting from the negligence are wholly apart. Bohlen's Studies in Law of Torts, p. 5; Smith, 25 Harv. Law R. 242. The measure of liability is found by determining the consequences of defendant's breach of duty. We have said, and courts as a general rule have said, that damages are recoverable so far as they may be proximately caused by the negligent breach. Few subjects in the law in the past 30 years have been written upon more extensively by the greatest thinkers in the field of torts than that of " Proximate Cause." These writers differ widely in their reasoning and conclusions, but are in agreement in the conclusion that judicial reasoning and discussion of this subject has left our law in a most uncertain and unsound condition. They have, we think, made their demonstration so complete that it is all the more regrettable that they so widely differ in their theories and methods of reasoning. It is due to their lack of reasonable agreement, and to the treatment of the subject by most of the writers in a way altogether too difficult of understanding and too abstract for presentation to a jury, that the courts have as a rule failed to give the consideration to the written discussion of these eminent authorities in the field of torts which their wealth of material so richly deserved. The desirability from a practical standpoint of a workable rule for determining the legal consequences resulting from a negligent act, at once understandable and sufficiently accurate in its applicability to enable a trial court to so present it to a jury that they may grasp it, has been growingly important as the changes in economic conditions have multiplied so vastly the instances of the problems in what the courts have denominated " proximate causation." Our court defined this term in Smith v. Connecticut Ry. & Ltg. Co., 80 Conn. 268, 270, 67 A. 888, 17 L.R.A. (N. S.) 707, as well as we have as yet seen it defined. In its constant use our trial judges have frequently had reason to feel that without explanation it did not furnish a rule whose application could be made with certitude by court or jury. We have had the same apprehension, but as yet in an opinion have never made the attempt to compare the theories of the legal writers with those of the courts to see if we might find the workable rule which the necessities of the present day demand.

The facts of this case have required us to restudy this subject with the end in view of the decision of this case and the adoption of a statement of the rule involved which shall be clear enough for use by the trial judge and simple enough in its application for the jury, and more than these, be a guide and aid to right decision. In the consideration of the subject we have had before us the writings of Jeremiah Smith, Profs. Bohlen, Beale, McLaughlin, Green, Levitt, and others, the text-books including Bevan and Street, together with many of the most valued of the opinions of the courts. These we have weighed, as we best could, within the limits of time we could give them.

The determination of the injury and its extent resulting from an act of negligence is the finding as a fact of the causal relation between the act and the injury. It is the ascertainment of the legal cause between these. Prof. Green, in his Rationale of Proximate Cause, page 132, has especially emphasized the finding of the causal relation as one of fact, and most of these other writers seem to be in agreement with this idea. This causal relation is called the " proximate cause." Various interpretations and explanations of this term are found in decided cases. One test is made to depend on contiguity of space or nearness of time. Neither by itself is a test of the causal relation but merely an evidential element. Smith, 25 Harvard L. R. at page 108.

The rule that a wrongdoer is liable for all probable consequences, or for all natural and probable consequences has been accepted more generally than any other as determinative that the act is the proximate cause. The rule involves, as Smith points out, the reverse proposition that the defendant would be relieved from liability if the consequence of the tort was an improbable one, that is, was not reasonably foreseeable, or one which could not reasonably have been anticipated. Smith, in his articles in 25 Harvard Law Review, has...

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