Nash v. Lang

Decision Date16 September 1929
Citation167 N.E. 762,268 Mass. 407
PartiesNASH v. LANG.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court


Appeal from Municipal Court of Boston, Appellate Division.

Action by Geraldine S. Nash against William H. Lang. Verdict for plaintiff, and case reported to Appellate Division. From an order dismissing the report, defendant appeals. Affirmed.

J. A. Canavan, of Boston, for appellant.

W. H. Taylor, of Boston, for appellee.


This is an action of tort to recover compensation for damage caused by the negligence of the defendant to an automobile, alleged to be owned by the plaintiff, while lent by her to her husband and being driven by him in her absence. The finding of the trial judge was in favor of the plaintiff. Such general finding imports a finding of all subsidiary facts essential to that conclusion. The finding must stand unless unsupported by evidence. Moss v. Old Colony Trust Co., 246 Mass. 139, 143, 140 N. E. 803.

[3] There was uncontradicted testimony that the husband purchased the automobile when the plaintiff was not present, paid for it with his own money, and presented it to her as an anniversary wedding gift. After the accident the husband turned the automobile in to a dealer and purchased another. Both the plaintiff and the husband testified that she owned the automobile. This was sufficient to support a finding that the plaintiff and not the husband was owner of the automobile which was damaged. G. L. c. 209, § 3.

[4] The plaintiff made application for registration of the automobile in her own name. In this application for registration the plaintiff stated in answer to question 6 the following: ‘From whom did you purchase the vehicle?’ (a) Name: ‘Boston Buick Company.’ (b) Address: ‘Mass. Ave., Boston.’ (c) When: October 10, 1926.’ The plaintiff answered question 9 as follows: ‘Is this vehicle owned by you individually?’ ‘Yes.’ The automobile was registered in the name of the plaintiff. No controversy exists on that point. It is conceded that the answer of the plaintiff to question 6 in the application was not strictly accurate. But that did not affect the main purpose of registration, which is to afford identification of the owner and of the motor vehicle. Fairbanks v. Kemp, 226 Mass. 75, 115 N. E. 240;Shufelt v. McCartin, 235 Mass. 122, 126 N. E. 362. This inaccuracy in the statement in the application did not go to a vital matter and did not invalidate the action taken on it by the registrar of motor vehicles. Question 6 on the application blank is not specifically required by G. L. c. 90, § 2, and amendments, although such inquiry may be made by the registrar under the general authority conferred upon him. There was no question on the blank covering definitely the acquisition of a motor vehicle by any other method than by purchase. The registration was legal and the automobile was not an outlaw on the highway. In principle the case at bar on this point does not differ from Harlow v. Sinman, 241 Mass. 462, 135 N. E. 553, and Koley v. Williams (Mass.) 164 N. E. 444. It bears no resemblance to cases like Nichols v. Holyoke Street Railway, 250 Mass. 88, 145 N. E. 33,Bacon v. Boston Elevated Railway, 256 Mass. 30, 152 N. E. 35, 47 A. L. R. 1100,Wallace v. New Bedford & Onset Street Railway, 259 Mass. 20, 155 N. E. 660, and Di Franco v. West Boston Gas Co., 262 Mass. 387, 160 N. E. 326.

[5] The plaintiff gratuitously lent her automobile to her husband, a physician, in order to enable him to make his professional calls. While being driven on the highway pursuant to this use, the automobile was damaged by the concurring negligence of the husband and the defendant. In the circumstances thus disclosed, the husband was not the agent of the plaintiff in driving the automobile. He was acting independently and in his own right. Simmons v. Rabinowitz (Mass.) 164 N. E. 806;Harvey v. Squire, 217 Mass. 411, 414, 105 N. E. 355. The question of agency arises frequently in cases where it is sought to fasten upon an owner liability for the tort of a borrower operating the automobile for his own ends. Where this is all that appears, the owner has been exonerated. Haskell v. Albiani, 245 Mass. 233, 139 N. E. 516;Dennis v. Glynn, 262 Mass. 233, 159 N. E. 516;Field v. Evans, 262 Mass. 315, 159 N. E. 751. See now St. 1928, c. 317.

[7] The interest of the wife in the professional success of her husband, aided though it may be by his marital obligation to support her, is not sufficient to render the work of the husband a joint enterprise of both. There must be additional factors to establish the relation of principal and agent or master and servant. See Goldstein v. Slutsky, 254 Mass. 501, 505, 150 N. E. 326, and McGowan v. Longwood, 242 Mass. 337, 136 N. E. 72, 23 A. L. R. 617. It follows that the relation of the plaintiff and her husband with respect to the automobile was that of bailor and bailee.

The remaining question for decision, put abstractly, is whether a bailor, free from personal negligence, may recover for damage to the bailed automobile resulting from concurring acts of negligence of the bailee and of a third person. Stated in slightly different form, the question is whether the negligence of the bailee, concurring with that of a third person to injure the bailed automobile, is to be imputed by law to the innocent bailor and thus bar him from recovery for the wrong done him. This question has never been decided in this commonwealth. It may have been open upon the record in Smith v. Smith, 2 Pick. 621,13 Am. Dec. 464 where it is stated in the facts (apparently prepared by the writer of the opinion) that the horse and wagon, for damage to which the plaintiff was seeking recovery, had been hired and at the time of the accident was being driven by one Kimball. Both parties may have accepted as correct, so far as concerned the imputation of the negligence of Kimball to the plaintiff, the instruction to the jury that, if Kimball was wanting in any respect in ordinary care, the defendant was not liable. The judgment of the court proceeds on the footing ‘that this action cannot be maintained, unless the plaintiff can show that he used ordinary case.’ From the statement of facts as a whole, it well might be inferred that, through the negligence of the plaintiff, the wagon or harness or both were lacking in parts essential for safety in driving and that thus the injury resulted. However that may be, no reference is made in the opinion to the subject of bailment, or to the imputability of the negligence of the bailee to the bailor. Seemingly the minds of the court were not directed to this aspect of the case, either by their own investigations or by arguments of counsel. An entirely different point of law was discussed in the opinion, namely, whether the defendant was not liable as the person originally in fault in unlawfully placing obstructions in the highway, even though the driver of the horse and wagon was in some degree wanting in due care. Brown v. Alter, 251 Mass. 223, 224, 146 N. E. 691, 38 A. L. R. 1036. In these circumstances that decision does not stand as an authority for any proposition not discussed.

No question having been made in that case as to the point here presented, the court are free to decide it according to sound principles as they now appear. Vigeant v. Postal Telegraph Cable Co., 260 Mass. 335, 343, 344, 157 N. E. 651, 53 A. L. R. 867, and cases cited; Swan v. Justices of the Superior Court, 222 Mass. 542, 545, 111 N. E. 386, and cases cited; Glaser v. Congregation Kehillath Israel (Mass.) 161 N. E. 619;Cochrane v. Forbes (Mass.) 166 N. E. 752. In Dunn v. Old Colony Street Railway, 186 Mass. 316, 71 N. E. 557, the question here presented did not arise because, as stated in the opinion, it was not contested that the negligence of the driver of the wagon on which furniture of the plaintiff was loaded was to be imputed to the plaintiff. It was held in Herlihy v. Smith, 116 Mass. 265, that negligent conduct of the bailee of a horse and carriage causing injury to a third person did not render the bailor liable to such third person. That does not throw much light on the case at bar. In Shultz v. Old Colony Street Railway, 193 Mass. 309, 79 N. E. 873,8 L. R. A. (N. S.) 597, 118 Am. St. Rep. 502,9 Ann. Cas. 402. It was decided that a guest, riding in a vehicle at the invitation of its owner and driver and in the exercise of due care, might recover from a third person whose negligence in concurrence with that of the owner and driver caused him injury. That decision does not quite reach to the present case, although its implications, so far as they go, and its principle and logic, favor the plaintiff. The question is treated as open for decision without binding precedent among our own cases.

The decided weight of judicial authority at present is that the contributory negligence of the bailee, concurring with that of a third person to injure the bailed property, is not to be imputed to the bailor who is free from any negligence. The modern trend is strongly in that direction. There are numerous well reasoned decisions to that effect. Morgan County v. Payne, 207 Ala. 674, 93 So. 628, 30 A. L. R. 1243;Bradley v. Ashworth, 211 Ala. 395, 100 So. 663;Missouri Pacific Railroad v. Boyce, 168 Ark. 440, 270 S. W. 519;Currie v. Consolidated Railway Co., 81 Conn. 383, 388, 71 A. 356;Tobin v. Syfrit, 32 Del. (2 W. W. Harr.) 274, 122 A. 244;Bower v. Union Pacific Railroad, 106 Kan. 404, 188 P. 420;Guthrie v. Missouri Pacific Railroad (Mo. App.) 279 S. W. 210, 212;Lacey v. Great Northern Railway, 70 Mont. 346, 354, 225 P. 808,36 A. L. R. 1331;Cain v. Wickens, 81 N. H. 99, 122 A. 800, 30 A. L. R. 1246;New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad v. New Jersey Electric Railway, 60 N. J. Law, 338, 346, 349, 38 A. 828,43 L. R. A. 849, affirmed in 61 N. J. Law, 287, 41 A. 1116,43 L. R. A. 849;Gibson v. Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, 226 Pa. 198, 75 A. 194,27 L. R. A. (N. S.) 689,18 Ann....

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