Peters v. Butler, 159

Decision Date01 April 1969
Docket NumberNo. 159,159
Citation251 A.2d 600,253 Md. 7
PartiesGeneva J. PETERS et vir v. Loretta BUTLER et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

William P. Helm, Silver Spring (George H. Eggers, Silver Spring, on the brief), for appellants.

Francis X. Quinn, Rockville (James F. Couch, Jr., Mt. Rainier, on the brief), for appellees.

Before HAMMOND, C. J., and MARBURY, BARNES, SINGLEY and SMITH, JJ.

HAMMOND, Chief Judge.

A woman injured in an accident and her husband asked an equity court to reform a general release to all mankind given to one joint tortfeasor on the ground that it did not reflect the intention of the parties, and to make it into a release which would permit the releasors to sue a second tortfeasor in accordance with the provisions of the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, Code (1968 Repl.Vol), Art. 50, §§ 16 to 24. Judge Bowie found the evidence to disclose no mistake of any kind and dismissed the bill. We find nothing to indicate that he was wrong.

Geneva Peters, whose husband James was the maintenance man of Kirkwood Apartments-Section D, was standing behind a low brick wall on the apartment house grounds, which marked the boundary of a parking lot, when James's new car, driven by Loretta Butler, the Peterses' daughter, ran into the wall and caused it to collapse on Geneva's leg, severely and permanently injuring her.

Eighteen days later the Peterses retained a lawyer experienced, competent and successful in the field of negligence, who is not their lawyer on this appeal. They say they hold him they wished to sue Kirkwood. For a number of reasons he found this inadvisable and they sued only Loretta Butler. Several years later, just prior to trial, the case was settled for $55,000. The bumptious automobile was insured by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company up to $15,000 and Loretta Butler was insured by American Mutual Insurance Company of Boston up to $50,000. American paid $40,000 and Nationwide $15,000 to settle the case. The Peterses gave Loretta Butler a release which fully released not only her but 'all other persons, firms or corporations liable or who might be claimed to be liable * * * on account of all injuries, known and unknown * * * which have resulted or may in the future develop' from the accident. The release added specifically that it was executed 'for the express purpose of precluding forever any further or additional claims arising out of the aforesaid accident.'

After the settlement the Peterses retained another lawyer and sued Kirkwood, which pleaded the release and asked for summary judgment. The Peterses thereupon filed a bill to reform the release, alleging in pertinent part that if the provisions of the release serve to release Kirkwood they 'do not reflect the intentions of the parties' and that 'it was the intention of the parties * * * to have the Release conform to the provisions of Art. 50, Sections 16-24 * * * so as to preserve their cause of action against Kirkwood,' the settlement of $55,000 having been intended to be a partial settlement only.

Appellants argue a point which does not appear to have been presented or directly decided below-that properly construed the release does not release Kirkwood. It is understandable that it was not argued below and puzzling that it is argued here, for the very basis of the proceeding to reform the release was that it did bar a suit by the Peterses against Kirkwood. The question would not seem to be properly presented to us for decision under Maryland Rules, but in any event the contention has no merit. Appellants' argument is this: Butler and Kirkwood were joint tortfeasors, under § 19 of Art. 50 of the Code, a release by the injured person of one joint tortfeasor 'does not discharge the other tortfeasors unless the release so provides,' and since Kirkwood paid nothing for the release and is not expressly named therein it was not released. We very recently rejected this same contention in Pemrock, Inc. v. Essco Co., Inc., Md., 249 A.2d 711, in which we held that a general release to all mankind barred further suits against other entities involved in the occurrence which produced the settlement with one participant that led to the release. Relied on were various cases holding a release of 'all other persons' did release a joint tortfeasor, including Thomas v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 229 Md. 332, 182 A.2d 823; Panichella v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company (3rd Cir.), 268 F.2d 72, cert. denied 361 U.S. 932, 80 S.Ct. 370, 4 L.Ed.2d 353; Oxford Commercial Corporation v. Landau, 12 N.Y.2d 362, 239 N.Y.S.2d 865, 190 N.E.2d 230; and Canillas v. Joseph H. Carter, Inc. (S.D.N.Y.), 280 F.Supp. 48, of which we said this:

'Judge Bryan in discussing the three rules as to joint tortfeasors-the common law rule that a release to one releases all others, the Restatement rule that a release to one releases all unless there is a reservation of right and the Uniform rule that the release of one does not release others liable unless the release so provides-, said of the Panichella release:

'There, the release * * * expressly provided for the discharge of all other persons, firms and...

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