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DORENZO v. GMC

December 14, 1971

Donald Joseph DORENZO and Patrick B. Clarke
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION v. Donald Joseph DORENZO


Broderick, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

BRODERICK, District Judge.

 This matter is before the Court on the motion of the defendant, General Motors, Inc. for summary judgment in its favor against plaintiff, Patrick B. Clarke. The pertinent facts may be briefly recited: At or about 3:00 a.m. on January 29, 1967, Patrick B. Clarke was injured as a result of an automobile accident involving the vehicle in which he was a passenger and a vehicle operated by Ralph A. Marset. The vehicle in which Clarke was riding as a passenger was a 1967 Chevelle being operated by the co-plaintiff, Donald J. Dorenzo.

 On or about January 25, 1968, Patrick B. Clarke, in the presence of his attorney, Allen L. Feingold, Esquire, executed and delivered a general release, releasing Florence Ezec and Donald Dorenzo and "all other persons, firms and corporations from all claims and demands, rights and causes of action of any kind the undersigned now has or hereafter may have on account of . . . and occurrence which happened on or about January 29, 1967." The consideration recited in said release ($18,694.20) was in fact paid to Patrick B. Clarke.

 On February 28, 1968, Patrick B. Clarke and Donald Dorenzo instituted this action against the General Motors Corporation, alleging that the accident of January 29, 1967 was attributable to the negligence of defendant. The defendant General Motors Corporation raised the affirmative defense of release by the Sixth Defense of its answer, and plaintiff has never denied the validity of said release in any document filed with this Court, including his brief in opposition to this motion.

 The law in Pennsylvania is clear that:

 
A valid release is an absolute bar to recovery for everything included in the release, and it can only be set aside as any contract, even the most solid contract or deed can be set aside, in the presence of clear, precise, and indubitable evidence of fraud, accidental means or incompetence of the party who is alleged to have signed it. Mannke v. Benjamin Moore & Co., 375 F.2d 281, 285 (3d Cir. 1967).

 And under the law of Pennsylvania it is presumed that an adult is competent to execute a release, and where a document is signed and the signature is accurate it may be presumed that the document accurately expresses the state of mind of the signing party.

 The meaning of the clear, precise and indubitable evidence standard was succinctly stated by the United States Supreme Court in Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co. The Court stated:

 
Under the Pennsylvania rule one who attacks the validity of a written release has the burden of sustaining his allegation by 'clear, precise, and indubitable evidence'; meaning evidence 'that is not only found to be credible but of such weight and directness as to make out the facts alleged beyond a reasonable doubt.' Witnesses who testify against the release must not only be credible, but 'distinctly remember the facts to which they testify and narrate the details exactly.' Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 242, 63 S. Ct. 246, 249, 87 L. Ed. 239 (1942.)

 See also Evans v. Marks, 421 Pa. 146, 218 A. 2d 802 (1966).

 Moreover, the plaintiff must establish fraud or mutual mistake by the evidence of two witnesses or by one witness and corroborating circumstances. Evans v. Marks at 151, 421 Pa. 146, 218 A. 2d 802; e.g. Easton v. Washington County Insurance Co., 391 Pa. 28, 137 A. 2d 332 (1957).

 The law is also clear that no release can be set aside merely because at the time of the release the releasor was ignorant of the extent of his injuries or the identity of the persons released. In Bollinger v. Randall, 184 Pa. Super. 644, 650-651, 135 A. 2d 802, 805 (1957), the Court stated:

 
Underestimating damages or making a settlement before the damages are accurately ascertained is not considered such a mutual mistake of fact as to relieve from a release of damages or settlement made by the ...

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