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FULLERTON v. MOTOR EXPRESS (11/09/53)

November 9, 1953

FULLERTON
v.
MOTOR EXPRESS, INC., APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 230, March T., 1953, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Sept. T., 1951, No. 494, in case of Robert Fullerton v. Motor Express, Inc., James Green and The City of Erie. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

A. Grant Walker, with him Gifford, Grahan, MacDonald & Illig, for appellant.

John A. Bowler, with him English, Gilson, Baker & Bowler, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 375 Pa. Page 174]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

On July 22, 1949, a tractor-trailer belonging to the plaintiff Robert Fullerton was seriously damaged through the negligent operation of a truck-tractor by the defendant James Green, employe of the co-defendant Motor Express, Inc. In the ensuing lawsuit the City of Erie was brought in as an additional defendant but the City was exonerated at the trial which resulted

[ 375 Pa. Page 175]

    in a verdict for the plaintiff against James Green and Motor Express, Inc., in the sum of $5,935.97. The defendant Motor Express, Inc. (hereinafter called Motor Express) filed motions for judgment n.o.v. and new trial, which were denied by the lower court. This appeal followed.

It is the contention of Motor Express that it is without legal responsibility for the plaintiff's losses because at the time the accident occurred, James Green was returning from a self-assumed luncheon trip and no evidence was adduced to establish that the company had any control over James Green at the time. The truck-tractor carried the name of Motor Express, and the trial Judge permitted the jury to infer from the markings or signs that the vehicle belonged to the defendant company and that it was being operated in the course of the company's business. This inference the Motor Express regards as error.

The law is clear that an identifying sign on a commercial vehicle declares its reputed ownership as much as a flag proclaims the nationality of the ship which flies it. If the ship is sailing under false colors it will have to answer for the deception. If a name on a vehicle mis-states ownership, opportunity is afforded the named person or firm to disprove the asserted proprietorship.

In Sefton v. Valley Dairy Co., 345 Pa. 324, 326, we said: "It is well settled by our previous decisions that the presence of a defendant's name on a commercial vehicle raises a rebuttable presumption that the vehicle is owned by defendant and that the driver of the vehicle is a servant of defendant acting within the scope of his employment... This presumption is sufficient to take the case to the jury even though ...


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