Price v. Bangert Bros. Road Builders, Inc., 55853
|08 January 1973
|No. 55853,No. 2,55853,2
|490 S.W.2d 53
|Lisa Marie PRICE, an Infant, by Daniel J. Price, Next Friend, and Daniel J. Price, Respondents, v. BANGERT BROTHERS ROAD BUILDERS, INC., and Margie E. Rautert, Appellants
|Missouri Supreme Court
Gerritzen & Gerritzen by Ray A. Gerritzen, St. Louis, for respondents.
Louis W. Riethmann, Ralph K. Soebbing, St. Louis, for appellant Bangert Brothers Road Builders, Inc.
Evans & Dixon, Eugene K. Buckley, St. Louis, for appellant Margie E. Rautert.
Defendants have appealed from the order of the trial court granting plaintiffs a new trial after a directed verdict in favor of defendant Bangert Brothers Road Builders, Inc. (hereafter referred to as 'Bangert Brothers'), and after a jury verdict in favor of defendant Mrs. Margie E. Rautert. At the time the notices of appeal were filed, this court had appellate jurisdiction by reason of the amount in dispute, and it retains jurisdiction until final disposition of this appeal. Art. V, § 31(4), Constitution of Missouri, V.A.M.S.
Lisa Marie Price, age 4, was injured when the authomobile, in which she was a passenger and which was being operated westerly on Harrison Street by Mrs. Jacqualine Price, her mother, collided with an automobile being operated northerly on St. Ferdinand Avenue by Mrs. Rautert. A stop sign for westbound traffic had been located on Harrison Street on a seven foot pole, but Bangert Brothers were engaged in widening St. Ferdinand Avenue, and the stop sign had been removed by them and placed on a portable barricade which was much lower than previously located. There was no stop sign at the intersection for northbound traffic on St. Ferdinand Avenue.
Mrs. Price testified that she had previously ridden over Harrison Street as a passenger in an automobile, but that she had not previously driven over it. She knew that St. Ferdinand was a through street, but she did not know that the intersection she was approaching was with St. Ferdinand. She also stated that on the north side of Harrison Street and near the intersection there were parked at least four automobiles, and that she did not see a stop sign until she passed the last automobile. She then saw a yellow sign lying on a hill or mound of dirt and immediately applied her brakes but the collision occurred. Other testimony was to the effect that the replaced stop sign was in an upright position, but that the bottom of the sign was about one or two feet above the ground. Mrs. Price did not see the northbound automobile of Mrs. Rautert prior to the collision because her veiw to her left was obstructed by a large van or vehicle on Harrison Street.
Plaintiffs sought damages from both defendants; Lisa Marie for personal injuries, and Daniel J. Price, her father, for medical expenses. We shall first consider whether the trial court erred in granting a new trial against Mrs. Rautert.
Plaintiffs' submission as to Mrs. Rautert was that she negligently failed 'to keep a careful lookout,' or she 'knew or by the use of the highest degree of care could have known that there was a reasonable likelihood of collision in the time thereafter to have stopped or sounded a warning,' and failed to do so. As previously noted the jury verdict was in favor of Mrs. Rautert.
The first two assignments of error in the motion for new trial which were sustained by the trial court pertain to testimony concerning the use of seat belts, and we shall consider them together.
During the cross-examination of Mrs. Price, counsel for Bangert Brothers asked whether her automobile was equipped with seat belts, and she replied without objection that it was. She was then asked if she was using her seat belts, and she answered, 'No, sir.' An objection was then made and sustained, and upon the request of plaintiffs the jury was instructed to 'disregard it.' No other relief was requested. Counsel for Bangert Brothers then asked, 'Were the children using their seat belts?' There then was some confusion whether an objection to this question was overruled or sustained, but the trial court later announced that it had intended to sustain the objection, and had done so because the question as asked included a second child in the automobile who was not injured and was not a party to the suit. Counsel for Bangert Brothers then stated that the theory of offering to show that Lisa Marie was not using a seat belt was that it pertained to the issue of the force of impact. The court ruled: Mrs. Price was then asked if Lisa Marie was wearing a seat belt, and she replied that she was not. There was no request that the jury be instructed that the evidence was admitted only for the limited purposes stated by the trial court.
The trial court was not justified in granting a new trial by reason of the first assignment of error; that is, that the trial court permitted cross-examination of Mrs. Price as to whether her seat belt was fastened. Assuming it was error to inquire into the subject, the trial court sustained the only objection made, and granted all the relief requested. See Shepard v. Harris, Mo., 329 S.W.2d 1, 13; State ex rel. Highway Commission v. Kimmel, Mo., 412 S.W.2d 506, 508.
The second assignment of error pertains to the questions of counsel for Bangert Brothers as to whether the seat belt of Lisa Marie was fastened. Assuming this was error, Mrs. Rautert had no part in it, and plaintiffs should not be entitled to a new trial against her because of error injected by Bangert Brothers unless it was such as to prejudicially affect plaintiffs' case against Mrs. Rautert before the jury. There is no contention that there was any violation during oral argument of the ruling of the court concerning contributory negligence.
It was admitted by plaintiffs that Mrs. Price was negligent. Therefore, if it could be said that testimony of her failure to have Lisa Marie in a seat belt injected the issue of contributory negligence on her part, it was not prejudicial. Waymire v. Carter, Mo.App., 366 S.W.2d 74, 78--79. Also, a four-year-old child cannot, in the circumstances here, be contributorily negligent, Schmidt v. Allen, Mo., 303 S.W.2d 652 (1957), and the negligence of its mother may not be imputed to it. Will v. Gilliam, Mo.,439 S.W.2d 498. There was no issue of contributory negligence submitted by the instructions.
Injuries to Lisa Marie were admitted, and the jury verdict was for Mrs. Rautert. Therefore, that verdict had to be on the basis that the jury found Mrs. Rautert not negligent, and the failure of Lisa Marie to use a seat belt could have had no bearing on the issue of negligence of Mrs. Rautert. We do not see how the failure of Lisa Marie to wear a seat belt could have been relevant to the issue of force of impact, except as that fact may have related to the issue of damages. But, by reason of the jury verdict on the issue of liability, the jury never reached the issue of damages. Assuming, therefore, that the testimony concerning seat belts presented by counsel for Bangert Brothers was erroneous, it did not prejudicially affect plaintiffs' case against Mrs. Rautert, and for that reason a new trial against Mrs. Rautert was not authorized.
The remaining assignments of error in the motion for new trial, which were sustained, pertain solely to Bangert Brothers. However, in their brief plaintiffs assert that the trial court erred in failing to grant a new trial based on other assignments of error which were not sustained by the trial court.
The first contention is that the court erred in refusing to direct a verdict against Mrs. Rautert on the issue of liability because, according to plaintiffs, her testimony...
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