Venable v. Stockner

Citation108 S.E.2d 380,200 Va. 900
Decision Date04 May 1959
Docket NumberNos. 4906,4907,s. 4906
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

Richard L. Williams (Edward R. Parker; Bremmer, Parker, Neal, Harris & Williams, on brief), for plaintiffs in error, J. S. Venable and Isaac Wilbert Laws.

Wilbur C. Allen (George E. Allen; Frank C. Maloney, III; Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen, on brief), for defendant in error, Louise Palmer Stockner.

Wilbur C. Allen (George E. Allen; Frank C. Maloney, III; Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen, on brief), for plaintiff in error, Wilfred N. Stockner.

Richard L. Williams (Edward R. Parker; Bremmer, Parker, Neal, Harris & Williams, on brief), for defendants in error, J. S. Venable and Isaac Wilbert Laws.


EGGLESTON, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court.

These are separate appeals in two suits which arise out of a collision between an automobile driven by Wilfred N. Stockner, in which his wife, Louis Palmer Stockner, was a passenger, and a tractor-trailer owner by J. S. Venable and driven by his employee, Isaac Wilbert, Laws. The collision occurred on December 28, 1955, at 7:00 p.m., on U.S. Route No. 360, about five miles east of Mechanicsville in Hanover County. The Stockner car was proceeding westwardly and the tractor-trailer eastwardly.

In Record No. 4906, Mrs. Stockner filed a motion for judgment against Venable and Laws to recover damages for her injuries sustained in the collision. In Record No. 4907, Stockner sued Venable and Laws to recover damages for his injuries and the loss of the car owned by him and destroyed in the collision. In the latter case Venable filed a counterclaim against Stockner for damages to the tractor-trailer. By consent of the parties the two suits were tried together before a jury which found a verdict of $8,000 in favor of Mrs. Stockner against Venable and Laws (Record No. 4906). In the suit of Stockner v. Venable and Laws the jury found for the defendants and disallowed the counterclaim of Venable (Record No. 4907). Motions to set aside the verdicts were overruled and judgments entered in accordance therewith. From these adverse judgments the respective parties have appealed.

In each case the appellant or appellants concede that the evidence is sufficient to sustain the verdict and the main assignments of error involve the rulings of the trial court on the admissibility of certain evidence.

At the point of the collision the highway is smooth -- paved to a width of about 20 feet, with painted lines dividing the lanes of travel. On each side the pavement is flanked by a dirt shoulder. Going eastwardly, the direction in which the tractor-trailer was proceeding, the highway turns to the left on a downgrade. The only eyewitnesses to the collision were the occupants of the Stockner car, that is, Stockner, the driver, and his wife, the passenger, and Laws, the driver and sole occupant of the tractor.

Both Stockners testified that as their vehicle, which was being driven in its proper lane of travel, came around the curve and approached the on-coming tractor-trailer, the latter vehicle crossed the center line of the highway and came into the westbound lane of the Stockner car, thus causing the collision.

Stockner testified that when he first saw the tractor-trailer it was about 150 feet away and on its proper side of the road; that when the vehicles were from 75 to 100 feet apart, the tractor came across the center line; and that at the time of the impact the tractor-trailer was from 18 inches to 3 feet across the center line. Mrs. Stockner estimated that at the moment of the impact the tractor-trailer was about 2 feet over the line. Stockner fixed his speed at about 45 miles per hour and estimated that of the other vehicle at about 55 to 60 miles per hour.

On the other hand, Laws, the driver of the tractor-trailer, testified that as he approached the scene at about 45 miles per hour he saw the Stockner car come around the curve and that its left wheel was on the center line; that he (Laws) applied his brakes and pulled to the right, but that as the two vehicles neared each other the Stockner car continued across the center line into the lane of the tractor and was 'approximately' 2 feet over the white line at the time of the impact. After the impact, he said, the brakes on the tractor-trailer failed to work, he was unable to control it, and his vehicle swerved across the road to the north shoulder of the highway where it caught fire.

After the impact the Stockner car came to rest on the north side of the road, headed eastwardly, and partly blocking the westbound lane. It was some 79 paces west of the place where the tractor-trailer came to rest. The car was damaged beyond repair. The main blow was to its left front and left side. The left front of the tractor was badly damaged and the tire and rim of the left front wheel were torn away, leaving the spokes exposed.

A state trooper arrived on the scene shortly after the collision and examined the pavement with a flashlight. He testified as to gouge marks found in the pavement in the eastbound lane. He observed none in the westbound lane. The tire marks made by the tractor-trailer as it swerved across the road after the impact were visible. Photographs of these markings were offered in evidence. One of the main issues in the case was which of these marks were made at the time of the collision and what inferences were to be drawn therefrom; that is, whether they showed which vehicle was on the wrong side of the highway.

The Stockners offered as a witness Ralph H. Snyder of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who testified that he had had twenty-five years experience as a 'safety engineer, accident analyst.' He first went to the scene on June 5, 1957, the day before the trial commenced and a year and a half after the accident. He examined the marks on the pavement, the photographs which had been taken of these, the photographs of the damaged vehicles, and from these undertook to reconstruct the accident and express an opinion as to how it had occurred. He was examined at length in the absence of the jury and the Stockners offered to prove by him that from his examination of the scene and the photographs he was able to determine the point of the impact, the angle of the impact, the manner in which the vehicles had collided, and the fact that at the moment of the impact the left side of the tractor-trailer protruded at least a foot and a half across the center line and into the lane of the Stockner car.

In absence of the jury the trial court ruled that this witness could express an opinion as to the angle, but not as to the point, of the impact, or the fact that at the moment of the impact the tractor was encroaching upon the lane of the Stockner car. This latter fact, it ruled, was 'the ultimate fact in the case' to be determined by the jury. Both sides excepted to this ruling, the Stockners claiming that the whole testimony of the witness should be allowed to go to the jury, and Venable and Laws claiming that none of this testimony was admissible.

Over the objection of counsel for Venable and Laws this witness was then permitted to testify before the jury that the photographs of the two vehicles showed that the tractor-trailer unit struck the front of the Stockner car 'at a very slight angle inward, but the main force was from the front toward the...

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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • August 30, 2019
    ...Blue Ridge Serv. Corp. of Va. v. Saxon Shoes, Inc. , 271 Va. 206, 213, 624 S.E.2d 55 (2006) ; see also Venable v. Stockner , 200 Va. 900, 904-05, 108 S.E.2d 380 (1959) (describing this principle as "well settled" and collecting cases). See generally Kent Sinclair & Charles E. Friend, The La......
  • Vince v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0533-14-2
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • February 18, 2015
    ...opinion . . . is inadmissible.'" Compton v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 716, 726, 250 S.E.2d 749, 755 (1979) (quoting Venable v. Stockner, 200 Va. 900, 904, 108 S.E.2d 380, 383 (1959)); see Llamera v. Commonwealth, 243 Va. 262, 264, 414 S.E.2d 597, 598 (1992). In contrast, it is equally logical a......
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    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • August 30, 1979
    ...own conclusions therefrom, the opinion of an expert based upon such facts and circumstances is inadmissible. Venable v. Stockner, 200 Va. 900, 904, 108 S.E.2d 380, 383 (1959); Strawderman v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 855, 859, 108 S.E.2d 376, 379-80 (1959); Ramsey v. Commonwealth, 200 Va. 245, ......
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    ...173 Neb. 15, 112 N.W.2d 396; Satterland v. Fieber, N.D., 91 N.W.2d 623; Waters v. Coleman, 235 Ark. 559, 361 S.W.2d 268; Venable v. Stockner, 200 Va. 900, 108 S.E.2d 380, 'accident analyst'; Murphy v. Hennen, 264 Minn. 457, 119 N.W.2d 489.The general subject is treated in 20 Am.Jur., Eviden......
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