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GETZ v. ROBINSON

June 4, 1964

Richard E. GETZ, Plaintiff,
v.
Albert ROBINSON, Defendant. Mario RAMOS, Plaintiff, v. P-W Corporation* *The action against P-W Corporation was dismissed by stipulation, consent, and order. ARMOURED CARRIER CORPORATION, Defendants, v. Albert ROBINSON and Valley Sales Corporation, Third-Party Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH

Grounds assigned by both movants for a mew trial were that the verdict was contrary to the evidence, and that the actions were improperly consolidated. In addition, Ramos contended that the findings of the jury were inconsistent and improper; that under the special interrogatories submitted to the jury, 'the jury was not permitted to consider the possibility of the concurrent negligence of Getz and Robinson, unless the jury found that the negligence of both these defendants constituted the proximate cause of the accident'; and Getz contended that 'the Answers to the Interrogatories by the Jury were such that a verdict in favor of Richard E. Getz should have been rendered.'

 The verdicts were not contrary to the evidence or against the weight of the evidence. There was ample evidence to support each finding by the jury. The court does not understand the movants to seriously contend to the contrary; neither ordered a transcript of the record.

 We think the two cases were properly tried together. Rule 42(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. Two trials have been eliminated, time and cost of reduplication of evidence have been saved, and inconsistent results have been avoided from identical or similar evidence. We think the joint trial was in accord with the progressive spirit of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. *fn3" Each case involved the same witnesses. Only one passenger was involved, and he sued only one driver, Getz. The common issues of fact in each case were simple. As appears from the pretrial procedure, either the driver Getz drove over onto the driver Robinson's side of the highway and caused the collision, or the driver Robinson drove over onto the driver Getz's side of the highway and caused the collision. This was the posture of the case throughout pretrial and trial. The passenger did not assert that the drivers were guilty of concurrent negligence. The issues of negligence and contributory negligence on the part of the drivers had to be litigated in each action even if tried separately. To have tried the cases separately may have resulted in inconsistent verdicts.

 The passenger, Ramos, did not sue his host, Robinson, although diversity of citizenship existed between them. *fn4" This choice by Ramos accounted for his failure to recover damages.

 At the trial, Getz and his employer, Armoured Carrier Corporation, strove to prove that Robinson was the sole negligent cause of the accident and succeeded in so persuading the jury. Robinson and his passenger, Ramos, strove to prove that Getz was the sole negligent cause of the accident and failed.

 There never was any contention, suggestion, or testimony on the part of Ramos that his host, Robinson, was responsible in any way for the accident or his injuries. *fn6"

 At the supplemental pretrial conference held November 14, 1963, about one week before the trial commenced, the seven interrogatories on liability were thoroughly discussed and agreed upon by all parties. *fn7" Cf. Cate v. Good Bros., 181 F.2d 146, 148-149 (3d Cir. 1950).

 Getz complains that the answer to Question 4 is inconsistent with the answer to Question 7, and that the jury was confused. We cannot agree. On abundant evidence, the jury apparently believed that Getz tried to get out of the way of the oncoming Robinson car and had driven his car partially off the concrete portion of the highway on his right side. Obviously, it believed Robinson was the sole negligent cause of the accident. But the jury also found on sufficient evidence that Getz was negligent and contributed to his own injuries. Of course, we are not certain of the particular act or omission found by the jury to have constituted contributory negligence; however, it could have been his driving on a hazardous highway without chains, or in failing to drive completely off the concrete portion of the highway on his right side when he observed the oncoming Robinson car on the wrong side, or in failing to stop his car sooner than he did. In any event, accepting Getz's version of the collision, he certainly was not the proximate cause thereof, but it is very likely that he contributed in the 'slightest degree' to his own injuries. Crane v. Neal, 389 Pa. 329, 132 A.2d 675. *fn8" In any event, it would be a prohibited invasion of the jury's function for the court to conclude that a different finding would be more reasonable. Reiner v. Bankers Security Corp., 305 F.2d 189, 192-193 3d Cir. 1962), citing Tennant v. Peoria & P.U. Ry. Co., 321 U.S. 29, 35, 64 S. Ct. 409, 88 L. Ed. 520.

 In our opinion, Getz's reasons for a new trial are without merit.

 Ramos contended that the findings of the jury were inconsistent and improper. We do not think the jury was in any way confused or made inconsistent or improper answers. Although the affirmative answer to Question 3 was unnecessary and surplusage, it does not necessitate a new trial. To the contrary, the jury in so answering demonstrated its ability to differentiate between negligence which constituted a proximate cause of the accident and negligence which contributed only to Getz's own injuries. The substance of § 463, Restatement, Torts, was read to the jury. (Tr. of Charge, pp. 19-20.) No objections were made to the instructions in this respect. We think the jury's answers also demonstrated that it had not only determined which witnesses were credible, but knew exactly what findings it wished to make under the evidence and the law.

 For reasons of his own Ramos was careful to exonerate Robinson from any semblance of negligence in his pretrial statement, testimony at trial, and argument to the jury. *fn9" Notwithstanding, in his motion for a new trial he complains that 'the jury was not permitted to consider the possibility of the concurrent negligence of Getz and Robinson, unless the jury found that the negligence of both these defendants constituted the proximate cause of the accident.'

 We think Ramos misapprehends the instructions. It was very plainly stated that only if it was found that Robinson's negligence was a proximate cause of the accident and that Getz's negligence was a proximate cause of the accident, should the jury answer the question: 'Did the negligence of Getz and Robinson concur in causing the accident?' Thus the jury was permitted to consider that the accident was caused by the concurrent negligence of the drivers.

 In this connection the jury was instructed:

 'Now, there may be more than one cause of an accident. Concurrent causes are causes occurring contemporaneously and which together produce an accident which would not have happened in the absence of either. They operate together to cause an accident.

 'Only if you find that Getz and Robinson were both negligent and the negligence of each operated jointly, concurrently, or together to cause this accident should you answer Question 5.' (Emphasis supplied.) (Tr. of Charge, p. 9.)

 'Now, there are certain laws of the road enacted by the Pennsylvania legislature and contained in the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code. Whether or not these laws apply to this case depends upon what facts you find from the evidence. These rules may help you decide whether Robinson was at fault or whether Getz was at fault or whether both were at fault.' (Emphasis Supplied.) (Tr. of Charge, p. 17.)

 The jury did not find concurrent negligence on the part of both drivers. Instead, it found that Getz's 'slight' negligence was not a substantial causative factor of the collision and the injuries sustained by Ramos, the passenger; or conversely it found that Robinson's reckless driving had such a predominant effect in causing the accident as to render Getz's negligence insignificant. Cf. Krauss v. Greenbarg, 137 F.2d 569, 571-572 (3d Cir. 1943); Restatement, Torts, §§ 431, 432, and 433, Comment d on Clause (a). Accepting as true the Getz version, it is plain that he was trying desperately to move as far as possible out of the path of Robinson's car before it rammed him.

 We think Ramos' exception to the charge and reasons for a new trial are without merit.

 As an afterthought, in his briefs and at argument, Getz contended that a new trial should be granted because the verdict was rendered after the jury had learned during its deliberations that the President of the United States had been shot. (Tr. of Charge, pp. 35-36.) Getz argues that he was 'deprived of the deliberations of an impartial, unaffected Jury, free from all outside influences'.

 In the cases at bar, a new trial may not be granted on the belated assertion of this ground. No motion for a mistrial was made for this reason before or after the verdict was returned although counsel had been informed that the jury had been told that the President had been shot. Since this ground was not assigned in Getz's motion for a new trial within the ten-day period limited by Rule 59(b), it was untimely and may not be considered. Demeretz v. Daniels Motor Freight, Inc., 307 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1962).

 However, even on the merits we think this reason is insufficient to grant a new trial. Cf. United States v. Clarke, 224 F.Supp. 647 (E.D.Pa. 1963). There was no evidence or indication that any member of the jury was so confused, excited, or unduly affected by the news as to interfere with his deliberation. The jury did not know ...


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