Steeves v. Smiley

Decision Date22 August 1960
Docket NumberNo. 18904,18904
Citation144 Colo. 5,354 P.2d 1011
PartiesHarold W. STEEVES and Jerry A. Alsop, by his next friend, Harold W. Steeves, Plaintiffs in Error, v. Rex L. SMILEY, Defendant in Error.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Lowell White, Walter A. Steele, Denver, for plaintiffs in error.

Darwin D. Coit, Denver, for defendant in error.

DOYLE, Justice.

Plaintiffs in error, plaintiffs below, seek review of a judgment in favor of the defendant in error, defendant below, setting aside a verdict in favor of plaintiffs.

The parties will be referred to as they appeared in the trial court. The complaint of plaintiffs contains three claims. The first seeks recovery for the wrongful death of plaintiff's son, an occupant of a car being driven by defendant, and resulting from the alleged negligence of defendant consisting of a wilful and wanton disregard of the rights of others. The second claim seeks damages for medical expenses (paid by Steeves) resulting from injuries to Jerry W. Alsop who was a passenger in the car of defendant and who was injured. In the third claim, Jerry Alsop, suing through plaintiff Steeves, his next friend, seeks damages for his own injuries. Like Claim 1, the second and third claims allege wilful and wanton conduct on the part of defendant.

The jury returned a verdict in the amount prayed for, which was $10,000 on the first claim, and in the amounts of $287.01 and $2,000 respectively on the second and third claims. Following receipt of the verdicts, the court granted the motions of defendant for directed verdicts.

On the date of the accident, August 10, 1956, at about 9:30 p. m., the defendant was 16 years of age, and had obtained his driver's license on his 16th birthday, two months before. The other occupants of the car, decedent Steeves, Alsop, and Roberta Dahl, were about the same age. The vehicle was a 1946 Chevrolet with a rebuilt motor. The accident occurred on Highway 287 just south of Lafayette, Colorado near the Louisville turnoff. It occurred while defendant, driving north on Highway 287, was passing other cars. The immediate cause would appear to have had its inception in defendant's apprehension that a car he was passing was about to make a left turn into the Louisville road. He was on the left side of the two lane, two-way road and suddenly pulled the wheel to the left and into the ditch on the west side of the highway. The car travelled some distance in the ditch, and finally skidded sideways into a power pole, bounced off that and at last came to rest against another pole. The decedent's body came to rest some distance from the second pole.

Due to defendant's alleged loss of memory and consequent inability to furnish any explanation as to what occurred, the ultimate issue in the case turns largely on circumstantial evidence. On the night of August 10, 1956, defendant and the others first went to the Valley Drive-In Theatre, but did not stay there and after visiting another amusement place for a brief time drove out Federal Boulevard on the above mentioned highway. Defendant's memory served him only to this point. He was unable to describe any of the subsequent events, at least at the trial, although in a statement made to one of the officers soon after the injuries, he was able to furnish a somewhat more detailed version. To the patrolman he said that he was driving the vehicle, that he did not know how fast he was going; that he turned into the ditch because he believed that the vehicle he was passing was about to make a left turn.

Although the surviving passengers were unable to testify to defendant's exact rate of speed, both attested to the fact that he was going very fast. Both of them warned defendant two or three times that he was going too fast and the deceased also warned him and asked him to slow down. Notwithstanding this defendant persisted in driving fast, in passing cars, and in weaving in and out of traffic. The physical circumstances also provide mute testimony as to his excessive speed in the circumstances. The car tracks extended 64 feet on the left or west side of the road after the car left the paved portion, to the Louisville road, and then across that road a distance of 22 feet plus 10 feet to the point where it went into a side skid. This latter movement continued for 44 feet to the power pole. This impact was so great that it broke the pole and the cross bars. It then spun in an arc and moved an additional 55 feet where it came to rest against a second power pole. The body of the decedent was 55 feet from the wreckage. Whether he was thrown from the car after the first or final impact is not clear.

In urging reversal of the judgment, plaintiffs call attention to the high speed; to the passing of other cars on the approach to the Louisville intersection; to the weaving in and out of the line of traffic and to the warnings given by the passengers, and argue that this evidence was sufficient to warrant submission of the issue of wilful and wanton conduct to the jury and was adequate to support their determination that defendant was guilty of such conduct.

Defendant's position, both in his brief and in oral arguments, proceeds on the premise that there is a dearth of direct evidence to establish excessive speed and to explain the accident in terms of wrongful conduct (either negligent or wanton) on the part of the defendant. He adopts the position that the circumstances are inconclusive and that...

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13 cases
  • Terror Min. Co., Inc. v. Roter, 92SC693
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • January 10, 1994
    ...mere unreasonableness; it must be "purposeful" and committed without regard to the child's safety. See also Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 9-10, 354 P.2d 1011, 1014 (1960) (concluding that where defendant pursues a highly hazardous course with the knowledge that tragic consequences are hig......
  • Lyons v. Nasby
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • March 20, 1989
    ...which, to a reasonable mind, create a strong probability that injuries to others will result, his conduct is wanton. Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 354 P.2d 1011 (1960). I can reach no other conclusion than to find that the petitioner's son acted in a willful and wanton manner by driving h......
  • Castaldo v. Stone
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Colorado
    • November 27, 2001
    ...are highly probable, defendant's conduct is reckless or wanton, and not merely negligent or careless. Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 9-10, 354 P.2d 1011, 1014 (1960). (emphasis 2. ordinary or simple negligence should be considered as resulting from a passive mind, while a willful and wanto......
  • Palmer v. A.H. Robins Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • June 4, 1984
    ...e.g., Coffman v. Seifert, 175 Colo. 224, 486 P.2d 422 (1971); Brown v. Spain, Jr., 171 Colo. 205, 466 P.2d 462 (1970); Steeves v. Smiley, 144 Colo. 5, 354 P.2d 1011 (1960). Colorado's punitive damages statute passes constitutional muster under the void for vagueness doctrine. 2. Other Due P......
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