Walsh v. New York Cent. & H.R.R. Co.

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtWERNER
Citation97 N.E. 408,204 N.Y. 58
Decision Date09 January 1912
PartiesWALSH v. NEW YORK CENT. & H. R. R. CO.

204 N.Y. 58
97 N.E. 408

WALSH
v.
NEW YORK CENT.
& H. R. R. CO.

Court of Appeals of New York.

Jan. 9, 1912.


Appeal from Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

Action by Matthew Walsh against the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company. Judgment of the Appellate Division (140 App. Div. 1,124 N. Y. Supp. 312) affirming judgment for plaintiff, and defendant appeals. Affirmed.

[97 N.E. 409]


[204 N.Y. 59]Alfred L. Becker, for appellant.

Alfred W. Gray, for respondent.


[204 N.Y. 60]WERNER, J.

[1][2][3] This is an action to recover damages for personal injuries, and it presents two questions upon which there has thus far been some difference of judicial opinion. The first question is whether the plaintiff should be precluded from maintaining this action because he compromised or settled another suit which he brought against the Erie Railroad Company on account of the same accident. The second question is whether the trial court made erroneous rulings in admitting evidence designed to establish the plaintiff's earning capacity prior to the casualty in which he was injured. All the other questions which have arisen in the case are either conclusively disposed of by the unanimous affirmance at the Appellate Division, of the judgment entered upon the verdict, or by rulings which, although reviewable in this court, present no errors which in our opinion would justify the reversal of the judgment. A brief statement of the facts will disclose the pertinence of the two questions which survive for our consideration.

On the 30th day of May, 1907, the plaintiff was injured on the tracks of the defendant at Suspension Bridge by a car belonging to the Erie Railroad Company, which was part of an Erie train that was being moved on what was known as the ‘Erie transfer track.’ There were seven of these tracks, and all were the property of the defendant. By an arrangement between the two corporations, the Erie Railroad Company used the seventh or most southerly track for the transfer of cars. To the north of all these tracks was the station of the defendant, and several hundred feet south of the tracks and running parallel therewith there was a street known as North avenue. From this street, over a rough piece of land belonging to the defendant, there were two well-defined paths which [204 N.Y. 61]led to and across the tracks of the defendant and to its station. The physical situation in that neighborhood was such that this path was much more convenient for the local patrons of the defendant's railroad than any of the adjacent streets which afforded passage to and from its station, and the evidence submitted to the jury warranted the finding that for more than 20 years these paths had been used daily by hundreds of persons, many of whom were patrons of the defendant, and that this use was acquiesced in if not expressly authorized by the defendant. On the day of the accident the plaintiff, who was then a resident of Niagara Falls, had been in Buffalo and returned to Niagara Falls on one of the defendant's trains which arrived at some time between 10 and 11 o'clock in the evening. He alighted at the Suspension Bridge station, not on the northerly side of the train looking toward the station, but on the southerly side, which led to the stretch of seven tracks. These he proceeded to cross toward the easterly one of the two paths above described. This was blocked by an Erie train, the rear car of which was about opposite the path. The plaintiff started to walk around this car, and it was while attempting to do this that the car was suddenly shunted against him and caused the injuries of which he complains.

After the accident the plaintiff brought an action against the Erie Railroad Company, which was later settled by the payment to the plaintiff of the sum of $7,000. Then this action was brought upon a complaint in the usual form, and in the answer thereto the defendant alleged that ‘the plaintiff for a good and valuable consideration equaling or exceeding in value and amount all the damage and injury suffered or alleged to have been suffered by the plaintiff as set forth in the complaint, to him in hand paid by the Erie Railroad Company, released and forever discharged both said Erie Railroad Company [204 N.Y. 62]and this defendant of and from all claims,’ etc., arising out of the personal injuries which are the subject of the action. At the trial the plaintiff testified, on the direct examination, that he had settled the action against the Erie Railroad Company, and had received from it at the time of the settlement the sum of $7,000. He was shown a paper which he admitted having signed, and identified it as ‘the paper of settlement.’ On the cross-examination of the

[97 N.E. 410]

plaintiff he reiterated what he had testified to concerning the settlement with the Erie Railroad Company, and also admitted that in the action against that company he had sworn to a complaint in which he had alleged ‘that said occurrence and injury,’ referring to the same occurrence and injury involved in this action, ‘were due solely to the carelessness and negligence of the defendant,’ the Erie Railroad Company. At the close of the plaintiff's case, there was a motion for a nonsuit, and at the conclusion of all the evidence a motion for a direction of a verdict against the plaintiff on the ground, inter alia, that according to the plaintiff's own evidence he had settled his case against one of the two parties who were charged as joint wrongdoers, and that this settlement was conclusive upon him in the case at bar. These motions were denied, and the exceptions to these rulings present the question: Did the plaintiff's compromise of the cause of action against the Erie Railroad Company operate to discharge the defendant, its joint tort-feasor?

It is elementary law that one who has been injured by the joint wrong of several parties may recover his damages against either or all; but, although there may be several suits and recoveries, there can be but one satisfaction. Livingston v. Bishop, 1 Johns. 290, 3 Am. Dec. 330;Thomas v. Rumsey, 6 Johns. 26; Barrett v. Third Ave. R. R. Co., 45 N. Y. 628, 635. The reason of the rule is that while there may be many perpetrators of a wrongful act, each of [204 N.Y. 63]whom is separately liable, yet the act and its consequences are indivisible, and the injured person is, therefore, limited to a single satisfaction. The early English cases and some of the later cases in our sister states literally follow the logic of this rule to the conclusion that any kind of a settlement, release, or satisfaction, even though expressly limited to certain parties and reserving all rights as against the others, operates to discharge all who participate in the wrong. The idea underlying this rule is that the primary intention to release is the thing to be carried out, and all inconsistent reservations must be ignored as repugnant to the purpose of the release, which was to destroy the debt or obligation. It is one of those harsh, although strictly logical common-law, rules which has had to make way for the modern tendency to substitute justice for technicality wherever that is possible, for now the English court are holding that the general words of a release, which are limited by specific reservations, are to be construed as a covenant not to sue the party to whom the instrument is given, thus effectuating the intention of the parties without affecting the joint liability. The authorities bearing upon this modern relaxation of the ancient rule were very succinctly, yet comprehensively, reviewed by Judge Haight in the case of Gilbert v. Finch, 173 N. Y. 455, 466,66 N. E. 133, 136 (61 L. R. A. 807, 93 Am. St. Rep. 623), and the conclusion of this court was thus stated in the closing paragraph of the opinion in that case: ‘It thus appears that the decisions of this court are in accord with the English rule and in harmony with out statute in reference to joint debtors. Code Civ. Proc. §§ 1942, 1944. They give force and effect to the intention of the parties to the instrument, which, we think, is more just and wiser and safer rule. Where the release contains no reservation, it operates to discharge all the joint tort-feasors; but, where the instrument expressly reserves the right to pursue the others, it is not technically a release but a covenant not to sue, and they are not discharged.’

[204 N.Y. 64]As we understand the position of the appellant and of our Associates who are opposed to the affirmance of this judgment, it is that the rule announced in Gilbert v. Finch has no application because the plaintiff proved that he had ‘settled the action against the Erie Railroad,’ but did not prove that the ‘paper of settlement’ contained any provision preserving the plaintiff's right of action against the defendant in this action . It is urged that the word...

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45 practice notes
  • Jarvis v. Indemnity Ins. Co. of North America
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oregon
    • July 12, 1961
    ...were merely evidence that explosion was caused by retailer's supervening negligence.); Walsh v. New York Cent. & H. R. R. Co., 1912, 204 N.Y. 58, 97 N.E. 408, 37 L.R.A.,N.S., 1137. (Plaintiff was struck by an Erie Railroad train operated on defendant New York Central's track. In prior actio......
  • Natrona Power Company v. Clark, 1088
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 6, 1924
    ...612; Edens v. Fletcher, 98 P. 784; Ellis v. Esson, 36 Am. Rep. 830; Pogel v. Meilke, 18 N.W. 927; Ry. Co. v. Darr supra; Walsh v. Ry. Co. 97 N.E. 408; Tankersley v. Co., 163 N.W. 850; Boyles v. Knight, 26 So. 939; Trading Co. v. Co. 220 F. 783; an acknowledgment of satisfaction against two ......
  • Bjork v. Chrysler Corp., No. 84-131
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 27, 1985
    ...of the right to sue others, being inconsistent with the purpose to release, must be disregarded. Walsh v. New York, C. & H.R. Co., 204 N.Y. 58, 97 N.E. 408, 37 L.R.A. (N.S.) 1137. In other words, the injured person cannot release one wrongdoer and at the same time reserve the right to pursu......
  • Hansen v. Standard Oil Co. of California, 6165
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • April 30, 1935
    ...57 P. 66; Perry v. Ryback, 302 Pa. 559, 153 A. 770, 772; Hendler v. Coffey, 278 Mass. 339, 179 N.E. 801; Walsh v. New York etc. R. Co., 204 N.Y. 58, 68, 97 N.E. 408, 37 L. R. A., N. S., 1137; Weir v. Union Ry. Co., 188 N.Y. 416, 81 N.E. 168, 11 Ann. Cas. 43, the questions and answers were n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • Jarvis v. Indemnity Ins. Co. of North America
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oregon
    • July 12, 1961
    ...were merely evidence that explosion was caused by retailer's supervening negligence.); Walsh v. New York Cent. & H. R. R. Co., 1912, 204 N.Y. 58, 97 N.E. 408, 37 L.R.A.,N.S., 1137. (Plaintiff was struck by an Erie Railroad train operated on defendant New York Central's track. In prior actio......
  • Natrona Power Company v. Clark, 1088
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 6, 1924
    ...612; Edens v. Fletcher, 98 P. 784; Ellis v. Esson, 36 Am. Rep. 830; Pogel v. Meilke, 18 N.W. 927; Ry. Co. v. Darr supra; Walsh v. Ry. Co. 97 N.E. 408; Tankersley v. Co., 163 N.W. 850; Boyles v. Knight, 26 So. 939; Trading Co. v. Co. 220 F. 783; an acknowledgment of satisfaction against two ......
  • Bjork v. Chrysler Corp., No. 84-131
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • June 27, 1985
    ...of the right to sue others, being inconsistent with the purpose to release, must be disregarded. Walsh v. New York, C. & H.R. Co., 204 N.Y. 58, 97 N.E. 408, 37 L.R.A. (N.S.) 1137. In other words, the injured person cannot release one wrongdoer and at the same time reserve the right to pursu......
  • Hansen v. Standard Oil Co. of California, 6165
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • April 30, 1935
    ...57 P. 66; Perry v. Ryback, 302 Pa. 559, 153 A. 770, 772; Hendler v. Coffey, 278 Mass. 339, 179 N.E. 801; Walsh v. New York etc. R. Co., 204 N.Y. 58, 68, 97 N.E. 408, 37 L. R. A., N. S., 1137; Weir v. Union Ry. Co., 188 N.Y. 416, 81 N.E. 168, 11 Ann. Cas. 43, the questions and answers were n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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