Poulin v. Graham

Citation147 A. 698
Decision Date13 November 1929
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Exceptions from Addison County Court; John S. Buttles, Judge.

Action by Antoinette Poulin against Fred Graham. Judgment for plaintiff, and defendant brings exceptions. Affirmed.

Argued before WATSON, C. J., and POWERS, SLACK, MOULTON, and WILLCOX, JJ.

Allen R. Sturtevant and Wayne C. Bosworth, both of Middlebury, for plaintiff.

J. A. McNamara, of Burlington, for defendant.

POWERS, J. The plaintiff was injured while riding with her husband in a truck which he was driving for the defendant who employed him. The negligence of the husband, the fact that he was acting within his employment at the time, that the plaintiff was riding by permission of the defendant, and was free from contributory negligence, were established by a verdict in her favor. By a motion for a verdict seasonably filed, the defendant questioned the right of the plaintiff to recover in an action predicated upon the personal negligence of her husband, though be was then acting as the defendant's servant. This motion was overruled, and the defendant excepted.

The plaintiff argues that there is nothing in the record to show that the Poulins were husband and wife at the time of the accident. We take no time with this claim as the transcript plainly shows that throughout the trial everybody connected with it understood that that relation existed at the time mentioned; and while we are to construe this record against the defendant, Higgins v. Metzger, 101 Vt. 285, 298, 143 A. 394, we must construe it reasonably, Hanley v. Poultney, 100 Vt. 172, 174, 135 A. 713, 54 A. L. R. 371. It would be doing violence to its plain meaning to sustain this claim of the plaintiff.

In support of the exception to the ruling on his motion for a verdict, the defendant insists that a wife cannot sue her husband in a tort action for negligence, and that it logically follows that she cannot sue his employer for her husband's negligence, since the employer would have an action over against the husband, and thus the allowance of an action like this one would be, in effect, an indirect action by her against her husband.

This claim of the defendant finds support in Maine v. Maine & Sons Co., 198 Iowa, 1278, 201 N. W. 20, 37 A. L. R. 161; Riser v. Riser, 240 Mich. 402, 215 N. W. 290, and Emerson v. Western Seed & Irrigation Co., 116 Neb. 180, 216 N. W. 297, 56 A. I., R. 327. However, we are unwilling to adopt the rule contended for.

For the purposes of this review, we will assume that a wife cannot sue her husband for negligence, as the cases cited, and others, hold. But we cannot admit that her right to sue her husband's master is, for that reason, foreclosed. It is true, as argued, that a master may recover from an offending servant such damages as he is compelled to pay on account of the latter's negligence. But the doctrine of respondeat superior is not affected by the plaintiff's inability to sue the servant; nor does it at all depend upon the right of the master to sue him. Star Brewery Co. v. Hauck, 222 Ill. 348, 78 N. E. 827, 113 Am. St. Rep. 420, 424. Evidence bearing upon either of these questions would be irrelevant to the issue raised in a case like this. The right to proceed against the master is in no sense subordinate or secondary to a right against the servant. It is primary and independent. This is all covered, and the wife's right to sue the master established, by Schubert v. Schubert Wagon Co., 249 N. Y. 253, 164 N. E. 42, the reasoning and result of which accord with the present day status of married women in this jurisdiction, and are satisfactory to us.

Consonant with these views are the cases involving the contributory negligence of the husband, wherein...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT