Steffens v. Proehl

Decision Date14 October 1969
Docket NumberNo. 53366,53366
Citation171 N.W.2d 297
CourtIowa Supreme Court
PartiesLeroy STEFFENS, Appellant, v. Richard PROEHL and George K. Young, Appellees.

Janss, Dreher, Wilson & Adams, Des Moines, for appellant.

Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, Des Moines, for appellees.

BECKER, Justice.

Plaintiff brought his action for damages for personal injuries growing out of an automobile accident against Richard Proehl, the co-employee-driver, and George K. Young the employer-car-owner. The case was tried to the court which found driver Proehl negligent and entered judgment against him for $35,000. The court found the liability of George K. Young was governed by the Workmen's Compensation Act, and it lacked jurisdiction of the subject matter as to such defendant. Plaintiff appeals the latter portion of the ruling. We affirm.

I. Some procedural and trial matters are assigned as error and will be treated later in the opinion. The real bone of contention is over the apparent conflict of a literal interpretation of the Workmen's Compensation Act, chapter 85, Iowa Code, 1966 and the Automobile Owner's Liability Statute, section 321.493, Code, 1966. Questions of negligence and damages are not in dispute so the main issue may be stated without recitation of facts. Where co-employees are acting within the scope of their employment, where one employee is injured due to the negligent operation of a motor vehicle by another employee and where the motor vehicle is owned by the parties' common employer, may the innocent injured employee bring suit for common-law liability against his employer?

Plaintiff answers in the affirmative. He relies on section 321.493 which reads: 'In all cases where damage is done by any motor vehicle by reason of negligence of the driver, and driven with the consent of the owner, the owner of the motor vehicle shall be liable for such damage.'

Defendant employer answers in the negative. He relies on section 85.3(1): 'Except as provided by this chapter, it shall be conclusively presumed that every employer has elected to provide, secure, and pay compensation according to the provisions of this chapter for any and all personal injuries sustained by an employee arising out of and in the course of the employment, and in such cases, the employer shall be relieved from other liability for recovery of damages or other compensation for such personal injury.'; and on section 85.20:

'The rights and remedies provided in this chapter for an employee on account of injury shall be exclusive of all other rights and remedies of such employee, his personal or legal representatives, dependents, or next of kin, at common law or otherwise, on account of such injury; and all employees affected by this chapter shall be conclusively presumed to have elected to take compensation in accordance with the terms, conditions, and provisions hereof until notice in writing shall have been served upon his employer. * * *.'

Plaintiff persuasively argues for the preeminence of the Owner's Liability Statute, section 321.493 on several grounds. First he says the history of the two legislative acts shows a legislative intent to impose liability on the car owner for the negligent acts of the consent driver and the only exception is contained in the guest statute which is a specific statutory exception. Since the pertinent Workmen's Compensation sections were passed in 1913 and stand without substantial amendment, and since the Owner's Liability Statute was passed in 1916 and substantially amended in 1937 and 1955, the legislature must be presumed to have known of the Workmen's Compensation provisions when it passed the Owner's Liability Statute. It did not provide an exception for the employer-employee relationship. Thus plaintiff asserts the later statute should prevail.

Tied in with this argument is the literal interpretation argument. Plaintiff claims the statute should mean what it plainly says and the special statutory defense, not being mentioned, is excluded.

Plaintiff also points to the social need to impose liability for negligent use of such a destructive instrument as a motor vehicle; the relatively recent proliferation of automobiles and the arguable need for special protection and legislation in the field. Of course, as plaintiff sees it, the legislation has already been supplied and it remains only for proper interpretation by this court to make the principle effective.

Despite the skill of counsel in advancing these arguments and their persuasive impact, we cannot agree. In essence, plaintiff argues that once negligence of the consent driver is shown, section 321.493 deprives the consenting owner of all defenses except the guest statute. Under this interpretation in proper cases such defenses as interspousal immunity, parental immunity, governmental immunity and workmen's compensation exclusivity would all be impliedly denied defendants on grounds they were not made express exceptions to the statute. We do not think such a result was intended by the legislature.

As we stated in McGraw v. Seigel, 221 Iowa 127, 133, 263 N.W. 553, 106 A.L.R. 1035: 'All the foregoing matters considered, we are content to say that the true legislative intent was that section 5026 should have general application in the field the Legislature was then considering; that is, the licensing and regulating of automobiles and safeguarding the public in their operation. Thus giving this section an interpretation which is full in its content and sufficient for the apparent purpose of the legislation, there appears to us that in the recognized rules of interpretation and in the environment and association and character of these statutes as pointed out there is necessity for saying that the Legislature intended no excursion by implication into the field of legislation with respect to the rights and liabilities of employee and employer. We hold that there was no legislative intent in enacting what is now section 5026 to repeal or modify by implication or otherwise the provisions of the Workmen's...

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14 cases
  • Hook v. Trevino, 12–0283.
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • November 8, 2013
    ...coemployee immunity did not exempt the vehicle owner from vicarious liability for the driver's negligence. Id.; cf. Steffens v. Proehl, 171 N.W.2d 297, 298–300 (Iowa 1969) (holding workers' compensation immunity barred section 321.493 claim against vehicle owner who was also plaintiff's emp......
  • Lloyd v. State
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • March 16, 1977
    ...Story County Board of Supervisors, 209 N.W.2d 569, 572 (Iowa 1973); Green v. Sherman, 173 N.W.2d 843, 846 (Iowa 1970); Steffens v. Proehl, 171 N.W.2d 297, 300 (Iowa 1969). Saxton v. State, 206 N.W.2d at 86, involved an appeal from a ruling sustaining the State's special appearance in an act......
  • South Dakota Medical Service, Inc. v. Minnesota Mut. Fire & Cas. Co.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Supreme Court
    • March 18, 1981 be within the purview and exclusive jurisdiction of the administrative agency charged with hearing such claims. See Steffens v. Proehl, 171 N.W.2d 297 (Iowa 1969); Jansen v. Harmon, 164 N.W.2d 323 (Iowa 1969); Herman v. Theis, 10 Mich.App. 684, 160 N.W.2d 365 (1968). But these authoritie......
  • Anthony v. Pre-Fab Transit Co., PRE-FAB
    • United States
    • Nebraska Supreme Court
    • November 1, 1991
    ...104 Mich.App. 279, 304 N.W.2d 551 (1981); Nelson v. Iowa-Illinois Gas & Elec. Co., 259 Iowa 101, 143 N.W.2d 289 (1966); Steffens v. Proehl, 171 N.W.2d 297 (Iowa 1969). We hold that the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court may not acquire subject matter jurisdiction by The plaintiff must pro......
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