Trieschman v. Eaton

Decision Date13 January 1961
Docket NumberNo. 96,96
Citation224 Md. 111,166 A.2d 892
PartiesIrene A. TRIESCHMAN and Herbert E. Trieschman v. Dr. George O. EATON and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Paul R. Connolly, Jr., Washington, D. C. (Hogan & Hartson, Washington, D. C., and Calvin E. Cohen, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellants.

G. C. A. Anderson, Baltimore (William O. Doub, Bartlett, Poe & Claggett and Anderson, Barnes, Coe & King, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellees.



In 1954 Irene Trieschman received multiple injuries, including fractures of both bones of the left leg, when she was struck by an automobile owned and driven by Francis O'Neill. Mrs. Trieschman alleges that she was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital and attended by Dr. George Eaton who inserted an orthopedic steel plate, supplied by the Hospital, in the left leg to accomplish fixation of a fracture. She says the plate broke while in the leg, destroying the union which had occurred at the site of the fracture, and necessitating another operation, bone grafting and other procedures designed to effect union. It is claimed that disability was prolonged and expense increased greatly, and that a permanent leg defect resulted.

In 1957 Mrs. Trieschman and her husband, the appellants, sued Dr. Eaton and Hopkins Hospital, the appellees (who will be hereinafter referred to as 'the doctor'), asserting negligence, medical malpractice and breach of warranty (in the sale of the plate by the Hospital). 1

Judge Oppenheimer granted summary judgment for the defendants-appellees on the ground the Trieschmans had earlier released O'Neill, the original tortfeasor, and that this was satisfaction of all claims of the Trieschmans and discharged the doctor. It appears the Trieschmans first sued O'Neill, and because he was uninsured and of limited financial resources, entered into a deferred payment arrangement in 1956. This took the form of a consent judgment for $10,000 and the execution of an 'agreement' between the parties, providing (a) that the judgment would be paid at the rate of $40.00 a month (with no interest and a grace period during winter months for late payments); (b) that as far as the Trieschmans were concerned O'Neill could have his driving privileges reinstated by the Department of Motor Vehicles; (c) that the Trieschmans would not seek to enforce or collect the judgment as long as the stipulated payments were promptly made; and (d) that upon payment in full of the $10,000 judgment O'Neill 'shall be released and discharged from any further liability * * *.'

Appellants seem to assume, appellees suggest, and Judge Oppenheimer held that the 1956 agreement 'has the effect of a release to the same extent as though it had been in the more usual form.' On this premise appellants seek to avoid the rule applied by the trial court that the release of one tort-feasor discharges another who has caused or contributed to the same harm, on two main grounds. First, they claim the Uniform Contribution Among Tort-Feasors Act, Code (1957), Art. 50, Secs. 16 to 24 (hereinafter called 'the Act'), controls whether O'Neill and the doctor were joint tortfeasors or concurrent or successive tort-feasors. Section 16 of the Act says: "joint tort-feasors' means two or more persons jointly or severally liable in tort for the same injury to person or property, whether or not judgment has been recovered against all or some of them.' It is urged that the definition is broad enough to encompass all negligent actors whose wrongs either produced or coalesced to result in, or contribute to, the same harm.

Section 19 provides that the release by the injured person, whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the other tort-feasors unless the release so provides but reduces the claim against the others in the amount paid for the release or in any amount or proportion stipulated if greater than the consideration paid. Therefore, if appellants are right in their contention that the Act embraces O'Neill and the doctor, the 1956 compromise with O'Neill did not discharge the doctor since it did not purport to do so.

Appellants's second main contention is that apart from and without regard to the Act, the release of O'Neill did not discharge the doctor under the holdings of recent cases in three states which have refused to apply the rule of the majority of the states which is that, in the absence of statute, the release of one tortfeasor discharges others who have caused or contributed to the same harm, whether the tortfeasors be joint, concurrent or successive.

Appellees join appellants in recognizing the established principle that the first tortfeasor is liable for the additional damage added to the original harm by the acts of a negligent doctor (who, of course, is also liable for the additional damage). Restatement, Torts, Sec. 457 (Illustration 1), and Restatement, Torts, Sec. 879 (Illustration 3). Appellees' real contentions are that O'Neill and the doctor are not joint tortfeasors apart from statute, are not joint tortfeasors under the Act, and that the overwhelming weight of authority is that a release of the original wrongdoer releases the doctor. In this last contention they are right. Almost all of the States have so held. The cases are collected in a comprehensive annotation in 40 A.L.R.2d 1075. A number of these cases have held that the original wrongdoer and the doctor who negligently aggravated the harm were not joint tortfeasors. 2 In none of these cases was there involved a statute defining joint tortfeasors as broadly as does the Act. The definition in the Act making those jointly or severally liable for the same injury literally embraces successive wrongdoers liable for the same harm even though one may be also liable to the injured person for additional damages. The Supreme Court of Arkansas apparently took this view in Applegate v. Riggall, 229 Ark. 773, 318 S.W.2d 596, on the strength of the definition in the Arkansas statute, Ark.Stats. §§ 34-1001, 34-1007, identical with the Act, and the further statutory provision that other parties liable for all or a part of the claim against an original defendant could be impleaded. 3

The reasoning of the majority decisions generally is that since the original wrongdoer is liable for the additional damages resulting from the acts of the doctor and there can be but one satisfaction for the same injury, the satisfaction of the injured person by the first negligent actor does away with all right of action against the second. The consideration paid for the release or the payment of a judgment against the original tortfeasor is either presumed or assumed by the opinions to have constituted full satisfaction. Some courts have softened the severity of the rule as to release by holding that a covenant not to sue or a release specifically reserving rights against others than the one released, do not absolve other torfeasors involved. This Court has been less flexible in tort cases, as Maryland Lumber Co. v. White, 205 Md. 180, 198, 107 A.2d 73, observes by reference to earlier cases. One of these earlier cases, Lanasa v. Beggs, 159 Md. 311, 319-321, 151 A. 21, 25, had held that the consideration accepted for executing a covenant not to sue, which reserved a right to proceed against other wrongdoers involved, constituted full satisfaction in the eyes of the law for the injury suffered, so that the convenant barred all further action and the reservation of rights was nugatory. The opinion, citing Cox v. Maryland Electric Railways Co., 126 Md. 300, 95 A. 43, with approval, said: 'Although the rule in this jurisdiction is that the injured party may bring separate suits against the wrongdoers, and proceed to judgment in each, and that no bar arises as to any of them until satisfaction is received, yet the party injured may have but one satisfaction. So, if as a matter of fact the wronged party has actually received satisfaction, or what in law is regarded as its equivalent, from one tort-feaser, he is barred from proceeding against the other tort-feasors. * * * This full satisfaction may assume the form either of a release, as in Gunther v. Lee, 45 Md. 60; of an entry of settlement upon the court docket in a pending action, as in Cox v. Md. Elec. Rwys. Co., 126 Md. 300, 95 A. 43, of a payment or tender of the amount of a judgment previously recovered against one tort-feasor, as in Berkley v. Wilson, 87 Md. 219, 39 A. 502; or of an accord and satisfaction, as in Stockton v. Frey, 4 Gill 406, 412, 413. * * * While the full satisfaction may be made these various ways, every one has the effect and quality of its form * * * and whether the evidence of a full satisfaction is a specialty or rests upon a parol agreement which is supported by consideration, the effect of the document or the parol testimony depends upon the intention of the parties as appears from their written or spoken words.' 4

The rule that there could be but one satisfaction of the same wrong originated at common law in the case of joint tortfeasors because there was but one cause of action--that against both. In the beginning independent wrongdoers liable for the same loss were not absolved by the release of one. Gradually the rule of release governing joint wrongdoers was extended to independent tortfeasors and it has become the law of most of the States. It was declared to be the law of this State in Cox v. Maryland Electric Railways Co., supra. The Court held that where one concurrent tortfeasor, who had been sued, paid an agreed amount in full to the injured person who caused to be made a docket entry in the case of 'agreed and settled and all claims therein satisfied,' there had been full satisfaction which discharged the other tortfeasor and barred a subsequent suit against him. The Court said that unlike the rule in some States, in Maryland 'it is not essential that the...

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    ...parties intended and whether the consent judgment represents an actual adjudication of a particular issue."); Trieschman v. Eaton, 224 Md. 111, 118, 166 A.2d 892, 896 (1961), overruled in part on other grounds, Morgan v. Cohen, 309 Md. 304, 523 A.2d 1003 (1987) ("The proviso that when the f......
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    • September 1, 1987 tort-feasor did not release other joint tort-feasors. See Art. 50, § 18, Maryland Code (1957, 1986 Repl. Vol.); Trieschman v. Eaton, 224 Md. 111, 166 A.2d 892 (1961). The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument, noting that the judgment in favor of the Welshes against Voigt had been satis......
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    ...weaving its way throughout each of these cases is that there can be but one recovery for a single wrong.”) (citing Trieschman v. Eaton, 224 Md. 111, 166 A.2d 892 (1961); Cox v. Maryland Elec. Rwys. Co., 126 Md. 300, 95 A. 43 (1915); Grantham v. Prince George's County, 251 Md. 28, 246 A.2d 5......
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