Martinez v. Southern Pac. Co.

Decision Date14 October 1955
Citation288 P.2d 868,45 Cal.2d 244
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesKatie MARTINEZ et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY, a corporation, et al., Defendants, William Lopez Martinez et al., Defendants and Appellants. S. F. 19308.

John Said, Fresno, for appellants.

John D. Chinello and Lawrence E. Viau, Jr., Fresno, for respondents.

SPENCE, Justice.

Plaintiffs sought damages for personal injuries sustained when an automobile in which they were riding collided with a Southern Pacific switch engine. The automobile was owned by defendant Carmen R. Martinez, and was being driven by his son, defendant William Lopez Martinez. The complaint alleged that William was driving the automobile with the permission of its owner, Carmen; that each plaintiff was 'a passenger for consideration'; and that the collision and resulting injuries were caused by the joint and concurrent negligence of William and the engineer operating the switch engine. The answers of defendants William and Carmen Martinez denied plaintiffs' status as passengers and William's negligence. The trial court found that the automobile was owned by Carmen Martinez and, with his permission, was being operated by William Martinez; that plaintiffs were riding as passengers for consideration therein; and that the accident was caused solely by the negligence of William Martinez. Accordingly, defendants Southern Pacific Company and its engineer were exonerated from liability but judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs Katie Martinez and Delia C. Martinez for the respective amounts of $5,961 and $5,281.50 as against defendants William and Carmen Martinez. From such judgment defendants William and Carmen Martinez appeal.

Appellants' main contention is that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the finding that respondents were passengers and not guests within the meaning of section 403 of the Vehicle Code, commonly known as the 'guest law.' However, taking the evidence and the inferences which reasonably can be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to respondents, as required by the time-honored rule, 4 Cal.Jur.2d, § 606, p. 485; Pacific Finance Corp. v. Foust, 44 Cal.2d 853, 285 P.2d 632; Estate of Arbulich, 41 Cal.2d 86, 88, 257 P.2d 433; Richter v. Walker, 36 Cal.2d 634, 640, 226 P.2d 593; Estate of Bristol, 23 Cal.2d 221, 223, 143 P.2d 689, there appears to be substantial support for the contested finding. Appellant Carmen Martinez raises these two further points: (1) That respondent Katie Martinez, his daughter, was an unemancipated minor at the time of the accident and therefore had no right of action against him, Trudell v. Leatherby, 212 Cal. 678, 680, 300 P. 7; Myers v. Tranquility Irr. Dist., 26 Cal.App.2d 385, 387, 79 P.2d 419; and (2) that the damages awarded against him as owner of the automobile for the imputed negligence of the driver, his son William, was excessive and against the law, Veh.Code, § 402. The record does not sustain his first point but does sustain his second; and the judgment for respondents must be modified accordingly.

Appellants and respondents are members of the same family. Appellant William, the 18-year-old son, and respondent Katie, the 20-year-old daughter, lived with their parents, Carmen Martinez, the father, and his wife in the family home. Respondent Delia is Carmen's daughter-in-law, being married to Carmen's son Cypriano; and she lived with her husband in a small house behind Carmen's home and on the same lot. For some eight months prior to the accident Katie and Delia had been working at a packing-house. Another employee regularly called for them and drove them each day to work. Each of them paid $1 to $1.25 per week for this service. However, some two weeks before the accident these rides ceased when this other employee quit working at the packing-plant, and another means of transportation was arranged: Katie and Delia were taken to work by Carmen, William or Cypriano, whichever one happened to be available; when Cypriano took them, he used his own car, and when Carmen or William took them, Carmen's car was used.

The family lived more or less as a unit, with the working members contributing a part of their earnings each week to the general household expenses. Katie testified that she made $30 to $40 a week, of which she gave her father, Carmen, $10 to $12 a week or more if needed, to help pay the family expenses; that during the two weeks before the accident she did not pay any more money to her father than she had previously paid; that on occasion when Cypriano drove her to work, she did buy gas; and that from time to time she had done favors for her brother William, giving him small sums and paying bills at his request, in the expectation that he would do favors for her in return. Delia testified that she never paid anything to Carmen, William, or her husband Cypriano for the rides to work, but that her husband from time to time gave his father, Carmen, certain money for household expenses money which her husband described as paid 'in place of rent.' William testified that while neither Katie nor Delia paid him directly for taking them to work, he expected that for his services they in turn would do favors for him; that on the morning of the accident he had had no conversation with Carmen or the girls as to who would take them to work, but that as he was there at the time, he (William) 'simply jumped in the car behind the wheel * * * and they jumped in to be taken to work.'

"The designations 'passenger' and 'guest' have been adopted for the purpose of distinguishing a person who has given compensation within the meaning of section 403 of the Vehicle Code from one carried gratuitously." Thompson v. Lacey, 42 Cal.2d 443, 444, 267 P.2d 1, 2; Whitmore v. French, 37 Cal.2d 744, 746, 235 P.2d 3. Under this section one who is a guest in the automobile of another cannot recover against the driver for injuries or death unless he establishes that the injuries or death proximately resulted from the intoxication or wilful misconduct of the driver; but where one is a passenger, the driver is liable for ordinary negligence proximately causing the injuries or death. Follansbee v. Benzenberg, 122 Cal.App.2d 466, 470, 265 P.2d 183, 42 A.L.R.2d 832. The burden of proving that they were passengers and not guests was upon respondents, for they made no claim that their injuries resulted from the intoxication or wilful misconduct of the driver. Gosselin v. Hawkins, 95 Cal.App.2d 857, 860, 214 P.2d 110; Whittemore v. Lockheed Aircraft Corp., 65 Cal.App.2d 737, 740, 151 P.2d 670. Appellants do not question the finding of negligence against the driver, William Martinez.

'Whether a person riding with another was a passenger or a guest is to be determined on the basis of the answer to the factual question: Did the rider confer a benefit on the driver for the ride? Malloy v. Fong, 37 Cal.2d 356, 376-378, 232 P.2d 241. It is for the trier of fact to determine whether the rider conferred a benefit or whether the ride was merely of a social nature. * * * Gosselin v. Hawkins, 95 Cal.App.2d 857, 861, 214 P.2d 110. Once the trier of fact has determined the fact of benefit, the province of the reviewing court is simply to examine the record to determine whether this factual finding is substantially supported.' Follansbee v. Benzenberg, supra, 122 Cal.App.2d 466, 471, 265 P.2d 183, 186.

In considering whether or not a benefit constitutes compensation within the meaning of the statute, Veh.Code, § 403, certain general rules have been applied. Where the driver receives a tangible benefit, monetary or otherwise, which is a motivating influence for furnishing the transportation, compensation may be said to have been given, with the result that the rider is a passenger and the driver is lable for ordinary negligence. Thompson v. Lacey, supra, 42 Cal.2d 443, 447, 267 P.2d 1; Whitmore v. French, supra, 37 Cal.2d 744, 746, 235 P.2d 3. But the benefit to the driver must be something more than simply the pleasure of the rider's company, Whitechat v. Guyette, 19 Cal.2d 428, 433, 122 P.2d 47; and the mere extension of customary courtesies of the road, such as sharing travel expenses, does not destroy the host and quest relationship if nothing more is involved than the exchange of social amenities or reciprocal hospitality. McCann v. Hoffman, 9 Cal.2d 279, 286, 70 P.2d 909; Kroiss v. Butler, 129 Cal.App.2d 550, 555, 277 P.2d 873. On the other hand, the benefit need not be money or its equivalent. Malloy v. Fong, 37 Cal.2d 356, 377, 232 P.2d 241; Kruzie v. Sanders, 23 Cal.2d 237, 241, 143 P.2d 704; Brandis v. Goldanski, 117 Cal.App.2d 42, 45, 255 P.2d 36. However, where the inference of a tangible benefit amounting to a motivating influence rests wholly upon conjecture, it is not sufficient. Lyon v. City of Long Beach, 92 Cal.App.2d 472, 478, 207 P.2d 73. But an anticipated or prospective profit is a benefit and may be as effectual as an immediate or direct compensation. Follansbee v. Benzenberg, supra, 122 Cal.App.2d 466, 471, 265 P.2d 183, 42 A.L.R.2d 832. Where the trip is primarily for a business purpose rather than a social purpose, it is sufficient to show that the driver was to derive a substantial benefit from the transportation, Kruzie v. Sanders, supra, 23 Cal.2d 237, 242, 143 P.2d 704; and such substantial benefit may be found if the transportation was for the mutual economic benefit of all concerned. Thompson v. Lacey, supra, 42 Cal.2d 443, 447, 267 P.2d 1. Applying the foregoing rules, we are of the view that there was sufficient evidence here to sustain the trial court's finding that respondents were passengers rather than guests, as contemplated by the statute. Veh.Code, § 403.

Manifestly, the ride culminating in respondents' injuries was not of a social nature. The trip had for its purpose the taking of wage earners to their place of work...

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