Wallace v. Ludwig

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtRUGG, Chief Justice.
Citation292 Mass. 251,198 N.E. 159
PartiesWALLACE v. LUDWIG (three cases).
Decision Date31 October 1935

292 Mass. 251

198 N.E. 159

LUDWIG (three cases).

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

October 31, 1935

Exceptions from Superior Court, Suffolk County; F. T. Hammond, Judge.

Actions of tort by Patrick Wallace, individaully and as administrator of the estate of Phenelope Wallace, deceased, against Irving F. Ludwig. Verdicts were returned for plaintiff in the sums of $1,500, $2,835, and $138. On defendant's exceptions.

Exceptions overruled.

[198 N.E. 160] B. J. Killion and E. Donovan, both of Boston, for plaintiff.

T. H. Mahony, of Boston, for defendant.

RUGG, Chief Justice.

These are actions of tort. The first is brought to recover compensation for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff's intestate, Phenelope Wallace, hereafter called the intestate, the second for her death, and the third for consequential damages caused to her husband. All arise out of the same incident and are founded on alleged negligence of the defendant in so operating his automobile [292 Mass. 252] as to strike the intestate while she was crossing a public way on foot. A general verdict was returned for the plaintiff in each case.

It is not necessary to recite the evidence. It warranted findings that the intestate received severe personal injuries by reason of the negligence of the defendant, that there was no contributory negligence on the part of the intestate, and that she subsequently died. Pease v. Lenssen, 286 Mass. 207, 190 N.E. 18.

The questions argued by the defendant relate chiefly to the death case. The accident happened on May 31, 1930. The intestate died on February 19, 1931. There was evidence tending to show that by reason of the accident the intestate suffered a miscarriage, had an enlarged uterus, and covering a period of several months at intervals had prolonged hemorrhages notwithstanding the fact that in August she went to a hospital and was curetted; that she became and continued anaemic from loss of blood and lost vitality and strength; that she went to the hospital again on February 12, where she died a week later from hemolytic streptococcus, a germ infection which developed first on February 17; that that germ is very virulent, enters the system through the respiratory tract and acts quickly if powers of resistance are broken down, and that the intestate did not have the germ when she went to the hospital on February 12. There was medical testimony to the effect that there was a causal connection between the accident and the death, because the accident caused the hemorrhages which left the vitality of the intestate so lowered that she could not resist the infection of the streptococcus germ. The trial judge in his charge to the jury stated the conflicting contentions of the parties. He then gave these instructions, to which the defendant excepted: ‘ There can be no recovery except for consequences which resulted from this accident as a cause. If you find that by reason of the accident hemorrhage was caused in Mrs. Wallace and by reason of such hemorrhages she became weak and enfeebled and her vitality was impaired and her capacity to resist disease was impaired * * * and if owing to that lowered vitality [292 Mass. 253] and weakness a germ disease like this hemolytic streptococcus developed in her which caused her death then you would be justified in finding a causal connection between the accident and the death. * * * As I told you in * * * the death case, the question is whether the death was caused by the accident; if you find that the immediate cause of the death was an infection due to this streptococcus and if you further find that by reason of the accident the deceased * * * was enfeebled by * * * hemorrhage or other conditions * * * due to the accident and that because of hemorrhage or other conditions due to the accident her vitality was lowered and her power to resist disease was diminished and you further find that but for that diminution of power to resist disease and impairment of vitality she would probably have resisted the disease caused by this germ and it would not have had a fatal effect then you would be warranted in finding that the death was caused by the accident, even if the immediate cause of the death was this infection due to the germ; if, however, you should find that the immediate cause of the death was this infection and that there was no weakness and enfeeblement due to the accident itself which impaired the power to resist this disease and that the disease developed independently of any lack of vitality or enfeeblement due to the accident then you would be warranted in finding that the death was caused by causes independent of the accident and that it was not under those circumstances caused by the accident.’

[198 N.E. 161] There was no error in the admission of testimony of the attending physician. The injuries arising from the accident were fully described. He then stated that the accident caused the hemorrhages in the intestate and that these left her vitality so lowered that she could not resist the infection of germs. This was a proper subject for expert testimony. Binns v. Blake (Mass.) 193 N.E. 550; Larson v. Boston Elevated Railway, 212 Mass. 262, 265, 267, 98 N.E. 1048. Cases like Little v. Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway, 223 Mass. 501, 504, 112 N.E. 77, and Reed v. Edison Electric Illuminating Co., 225 Mass. 163, 167, 114 N.E. 289, are quite distinguishable.

The exception to the charge in the light of the medical [292 Mass. 254] testimony raises the question whether the injury which by reason of the negligence of the defendant came to the intestate could under the law have been found to be the proximate cause of her death. The proximate cause is that which in a continuous sequence, unbroken by any new cause, produces an event and without which the event would not have occurred. It may be assisted or accelerated by other incidental and ancillary matters, but, if it continues as an operative and potent factor, the chain of causation is not broken. It was said by Knowlton, J., speaking for the court in Lynn Gas & Electric Co. v. Meriden Fire Ins. Co., 158 Mass. 570, 575, 33 N.E. 690,20 L.R.A. 297, 35 Am.St.Rep. 540:‘ The active efficient cause that sets in motion a train of events which brings about a result without the intervention of any force started and working actively from a new and independent source is the direct and proximate cause.’ In McDonald v. Snelling, 14 Allen, 290, 296, 92 Am.Dec. 768, it was said: ‘ The mere circumstance that there have intervened, between the wrongful cause and the injurious consequence, acts produced by the volition of animals or of human beings, does not necessarily make the result so remote that no action can be maintained. The test is to be found, not in the number of intervening events or agents, but in their character, and in the natural and probable connection between the wrong done and the injurious consequence.’ Freeman v. Mercantile Mutual Accident Association, 156 Mass. 351, 353, 30 N.E. 1013,17 L.R.A. 753. It was said in Leahy v. Standard Oil Company of New York, 224 Mass. 352, 361-362, 112 N.E. 950, that it ‘ must now be taken to be settled (at least in this Commonwealth) that the natural and probable consequences of the defendant's act are to be looked to in determining their character * * *. But in cases of negligence * * * when it is determined that the defendant's act was a negligent one, the question of causation, that is, the question whether the injury suffered by the plaintiff was in fact caused by the defendant's negligent act, is one not affected by what the natural and probable consequences of that act were. What was said * * * in Sponatski's Case,’ 220 Mass. 526, at pages 530, 531, 108 N.E. 466, L.R.A. 1916A, 333,‘ is of general application. The question of causation is one and the same question no matter [292 Mass. 255] how the defendant's liability is made out. It is of no consequence whether the fact by reason of which the defendant is liable, is made out under the workmen's compensation act, under the act which makes a...

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