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Marius v. Motor Delivery Co.

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division

October 20, 1911

ANTONIA J. MARIUS, as Administratrix, etc., of CLARENCE A. M. MARIUS, Deceased, Respondent,
v.
THE MOTOR DELIVERY COMPANY, Appellant.

APPEAL by the defendant, The Motor Delivery Company, from a judgment of the Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiff, entered in the office of the clerk of the county of New York on the 22d day of December, 1910, upon the verdict of a jury for $5,000, and also from an order entered in said clerk's

Page 609

office on the 17th day of December, 1910, denying the defendant's motion for a new trial made upon the minutes.

COUNSEL

Herrick C. Allen, for the appellant.

Harold A. Callan, for the respondent.

LAUGHLIN, J.:

This is a statutory action to recover for the death of a boy eight and a half years of age, alleged to have been caused by the negligence of a driver employed by the defendant in operating a motor truck, carrying United States mail, and a verdict for $5,000, which if not excessive, at least borders on excessiveness, has been recovered. The decedent was engaged in playing ball with other boys in West One Hundred and Twenty-fourth street, near St. Nicholas avenue, and he was struck and injured by the truck which was going westerly along One Hundred and Twenty-fourth street. There is quite a conflict in the evidence with respect to the circumstances attending the accident. The evidence offered in behalf of the plaintiff tended to establish the theory that the motor truck was on the wrong side of the street, being a little south of the middle of the street, and that it came along without giving any warning, and that the boy was struck by the left front wheel while passing from the middle of the street toward the southerly curb; and on the part of the defendant evidence was given tending to show that the boy ran into the side of the truck and thus came in contact with the rear wheel. In the vicinity of the place where the accident occurred there was no other vehicle or obstruction in the street either to interfere with the view of the decedent or of the driver of the motor truck. It was a bright, clear day, and the accident occurred in broad daylight. The decedent was a bright boy, in the possession of all of his faculties, with the exception that he wore eyeglasses in school, and had attended school since he was five years old, and according to the testimony of his teacher his standing in his classes was 'superior.'

There is a sharp conflict in the testimony bearing on the main issues with respect to freedom from negligence on the

Page 610

part of the decedent, and negligence on the part of the defendant. In these circumstances the defendant was entitled to have the jury fully and clearly and carefully instructed with respect to the propositions of law by which they were to determine whether the decedent was free from contributory negligence and whether the defendant was negligent. We are of opinion that the court failed to sufficiently instruct the jury on these points and that the exceptions relating thereto present reversible error.

In the charge in chief the court instructed the jury that it was the duty of the plaintiff to show by a fair pre-ponderance of the evidence that the defendant was negligent and that the decedent was free from contributory negligence, but failed to give the jury any instructions with respect to what constituted negligence, or to give the jury a rule by which they could test the conduct of the decedent to determine whether or not he was guilty of contributory negligence, The court, in instructing the jury with respect to the effect of the defendant's truck being on the wrong side of the street, if they should so find, stated that that would not necessarily establish negligence, but that it would be a 'factor and item' to be taken into consideration and weighed with other facts, if any, indicating that the driver was negligent, and that if the other facts were sufficiently persuasive to show the jury that the driver 'was negligent, that he did not conduct himself as a reasonable and prudent [man] would in driving this machine on that street on that day, and under those circumstances, then he has been negligent; ' but the court failed to inform the jury that it was the duty of the decedent to conduct himself as a reasonable and prudent boy of his age and understanding would have conducted himself under like circumstances, or that the standard by which they were to determine whether or not the decedent was guilty of contributory negligence was whether he exercised that care which would ordinarily be exercised by a child of his age and understanding and of ordinary prudence. The court, however, after submitting to the jury the main questions and then the question of damages added: 'I should also say to you that this child was not of age. He was eight and a half years old. A child of that kind, bright and intelligent even

Page 611

though he be, may not be chargeable with quite so much fear [care] as a grown person. It is for you to determine finally whether this child of the intelligence and educational progress and general character testified to you, used such care as a child of that position should use; and by that test you will determine whether or not he was free from contributory negligence in this particular case.' The test thus prescribed by the court is not the true test by which to determine whether or not the decedent was negligent. It was not for the jury to determine what care he should have used. The law prescribes that he should have used the same care that a person of the same age, education and mental and physical capacity ordinarily uses under like circumstances.

At the close of the charge counsel for the defendant presented requests to charge which, if granted, would have remedied the errors in the main charge in the particulars mentioned, and would have fully instructed the jury with respect to their duties; but they were declined and exceptions were duly taken. The court was thus duly requested to instruct the jury that it was the duty of the decedent to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury, and that reasonable care is the care that could fairly be expected of a child of his age, capacity, intelligence and physical condition, and that if he had greater natural capacity and intelligence than the average boy of his age he was bound to use a degree of care proportionately greater, and that if he failed so to do the defendant was entitled to a verdict. The defendant duly requested an instruction to the effect that if the decedent failed to exercise any care there could be no recovery. The court had not expressly instructed the jury that it was the duty of the decedent to use any care, but merely left it to the jury to determine whether he 'used such care as a child of that position should use.' The court was also requested to instruct the jury that if the decedent ran into the side of the truck, or if he ...


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