Matthews v. Porter

Decision Date05 March 1962
Docket NumberNo. 17881,17881
Citation239 S.C. 620,124 S.E.2d 321
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesJacqueline V. MATTHEWS, Respondent, v. Grover L. PORTER and U. S. Gypsum Company, of whom Grover L. Porter is, Appellant.

Wright, Scott, Blackwell & Powers, Florence, for appellant.

Willcox, Hardee, Houck & Palmer, Florence, for respondent.

MOSS, Justice.

Mrs. Jacqueline V. Matthews, the respondent herein, brought this action to recover damages for injuries sustained by her through the alleged negligence and willfulness of Grover L. Porter, the appellant herein. It appears from the complaint and the testimony that on December 25, 1957, at approximately 10:30 P. M., the appellant was operating a Ford automobile in an easterly direction on U. S. Highway 76, between Mayesville and Lynchburg, South Carolina. It further appears that the automobile of the appellant was involved in a collision with an automobile being driven in a westerly direction by Isaac Singletary. It further appears that the two automobiles came to rest in U. S. Highway 76, and the automobile of the appellant was blocking the eastbound lane of traffic. It appears that the respondent was riding in an automobile operated by her husband in a westerly direction, over and along said highway, and arrived at the scene of the said collision soon after it occurred. The car in which the respondent was riding was stopped, pursuant to a flash light signal, on the eastern side of the scene of said collision. The respondent got out of the car in which she was traveling and offered her assistance to a physician, who had arrived upon the scene, in administering aid to the injured passengers in the two automobiles. The physician went to the car of the appellant and was administering aid to Mrs. Porter, who was still in said car. The respondent was standing by the physician on the western side of the appellant's car when a Ford automobile, being operated in an easterly direction on U. S. Highway 76, and driven by one Lewis McKnight, skidded sideways down the highway, after striking another car, crushing the respondent between the car of the appellant and the one driven by McKnight, resulting in personal injuries to her.

The complaint of the respondent charged the appellant with certain acts of negligence and willfulness which allegedly caused his collision with the Singletary automobile, and with permitting his automobile to block the highway so that others could not safely pass, and failing to warn approaching vehicles that the highway was so blocked. The complaint also charged that the personal injuries received by the respondent were proximately caused by the acts of negligence and willfulness of the appellant.

The answer of the appellant denied the material allegations contained in the complaint of the respondent and affirmatively alleged that the collision between the automobile driven by the appellant and the one driven by Isaac Singletary was solely and proximately caused by the negligence and willfulness of the said Isaac Singletary. The answer further alleged that the second collision was caused solely and proximately by negligence on the part of Lewis McKnight, and that at the time of the said collision, the scene and all traffic thereabout was under the control and direction of a law enforcement officer, and that at such time the automobile of the appellant had been so damaged in the first collision that it could not be removed, and the appellant was so injured that he was incapable of either removing the said automobile from the highway or taking any action to avoid the second collision.

This case was tried before the Honorable Steve C. Griffith, and a jury, at the 1960 term of the Court of Common Pleas for Florence County and resulted in a verdict for actual damages in favor of the respondent. At appropriate stages of the trial, the appellant made timely motions for a nonsuit and a directed verdict. These were refused. After the rendition of a verdict in favor of the respondent, the appellant made motions for judgment non obstante veredicto, and in the alternative for a new trial. These motions were likewise refused.

The motion of the appellant for a nonsuit was upon the ground that the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the testimony offered by the respondent was that her injuries were caused by the negligence of Lewis McKnight operating as the sole and proximate cause thereof. The motion for a directed verdict was made upon the grounds (1) That there is no evidence from which the jury can infer that the appellant was negligent in the first collision nor is there any evidence to show that he was negligent in the second collision; (2) That there was no evidence that any negligence of the appellant in the first collision was the proximate cause of the second collision whereby the respondent received her injuries; and (3) That the only inference to be drawn is that the negligence of Lewis McKnight intervened and was the sole cause of respondent's injuries. These grounds were preserved in the appellant's motion for judgment non obstante veredicto, or in the alternative for a new trial. This appeal followed and the exceptions of the appellant preserve the position taken by him in the lower Court.

The question of whether or not there was error in refusing the motions of the appellant for a nonsuit, directed verdict, judgment non obstante veredicto, and alternatively for a new trial, requires us to consider the testimony and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the respondent. If more than one reasonable inference can be drawn from the evidence, the case must be submitted to the jury. However, if the evidence is susceptible of only one reasonable inference, the question is no longer one for the jury but one of law for the court. Green v. Bolen, 237 S.C. 1, 115 S.E.2d 667.

The complaint charged the appellant with certain acts of negligence which caused the collision with the Singletary automobile. Isaac Singletary testified that the appellant drove his automobile over the center line of U. S. Highway 76, in the direction in which the appellant was traveling, and collided with his automobile in the latter's lane of travel. There was also testimony that the appellant's automobile was over the center line after the collision. A highway patrolman testified that he found debris left from the collision approximately two feet across the center line and in the lane of travel occupied by the automobile of Isaac Singletary. The appellant denied that he drove his automobile to the left of the center line of the highway in the direction in which he was going. He further testified that he was driving, at the time of the collision with Singletary, on 'the proper legal right hand side of the road' and that he never did leave his side of the said road. There was, in our judgment, sufficient evidence to support a finding by the jury that the appellant negligently drove his automobile onto the wrong side of the road and collided with the Singletary automobile.

It is the position of the appellant, assuming that he was negligent in connection with his collision with the Singletary automoble, that such negligence was cut off or insulated by the intervening negligence of one Lewis McKnight, which solely and proximately caused the injuries to the respondent, and such could not have been foreseen by the appellant in the exercise of reasonable care and was not a natural and probable consequence of his original negligence.

Our decisions are to the effect that liability exists for the natural and probable consequences of negligent acts or omissions, proximately flowing therefrom. The intervening negligence of a third person will not excuse the first wrongdoer, if such intervention ought to have been foreseen in the exercise of due care. In such case, the original negligence still remains active, and a contributing cause of the injury. The test is to be found in the probable consequences reasonably to be anticipated, and not in the number or exact character of events subsequently arising. Woody v. South Carolina Power Co., 202 S.C. 73, 24 S.E.2d 121.

In the case of Brown v. National Oil Co., et al., 233 S.C. 345, 105 S.E.2d 81, we said:

'It is equally well settled that to establish liability, it is not necessary that the person charged with negligence should have contemplated the particular event which occurred. It is sufficient that he should have foreseen that his negligence 'would probably result in injury of some kind to someone. The wrongdoer may be held liable for anything which, after the injury is complete, appears to have been a natural and probable consequence of his negligence.' Hicklin v. Jeff Hunt Machinery Co., 226 S.C. 484, 85 S.E.2d 739, 743. 'If the actor's conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about harm to another, the fact that the actor neither foresaw nor should have foreseen the extent of the harm or the manner in which it occurred does not prevent him from being liable.' Restatement, Torts, Section 435.

'In 38 Am.Jur., Negligence, Section 64, it is stated: 'The rule is that when an injury occurs through the concurrent negligence of two persons, and it would not have happened in the absence of the negligence of either person, the negligence of each of the wrongdoers will be deemed a proximate cause of the injury, although they may have acted independently of one another; and both are answerable, jointly or severally, to the same extent as though the injury were caused by his negligence alone, without reference to which one was guilty of the last act of negligence."

In the case of Tobias v. Carolina Power & Light Co., 190 S.C. 181, 2 S.E.2d 686, a pedestrian on the highway was struck by a passing motorist and thrown against exposed guy wires of an electric light pole installed and maintained by the power company in the center of the highway. It was held that if the power company was...

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