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STAR JEWELERS, INC. v. DURHAM et al. 56198. DURHAM et. al.
Action for damages. Floyd Superior Court. Before Judge Frazier.
DEEN, Presiding Judge.
1. One who signs letters of administration which represent her to be the "wife" of the deceased, and who was living with the deceased at the time of his death, may be found to have been his common law wife at that time.
2. However, where such plaintiff takes the position that she was not in fact the wife of the deceased at the time of his death (they having been married and divorced prior thereto) and where she brings a death action by herself as next friend of the child of the marriage, and also as administratrix of the estate, a jury question being presented by the evidence as to whether she was in fact the common law wife of the decedent, and where a verdict specially finding her to be the wife is returned, it is not error to allow an amendment, even after verdict, naming the plaintiff as the real party at interest in her individual capacity.
3. Parties may be dropped or added by the court at any stage of the litigation. It is not ground for reversal that the court denied the defense of failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted because this complaint in fact advanced two claims: that of the child for the value of her father's life and that of the adult plaintiff as administratrix for medical expenses.
4. The trial judge did not abuse his discretion in disallowing the testimony of a witness who had violated the sequestration rule.
The named plaintiffs are Frances Durham as administratrix of the estate of the deceased Lonnie Durham and a minor child Lori by and through Frances Durham as guardian and next friend. The petition was filed July 29, 1975, and went to trial on January 16, 1978. On the latter date the court allowed the defendant Star Jewelers, Inc. to amend its answer and add a defense alleging that the right of action for the full value of the life of the deceased was not in the minor child through Frances Durham, her mother, as next friend, but was in Frances Durham as an individual and widow of the deceased. Special questions were submitted to the jury on the trial of the case. They found specifically that Frances Durham was the widow of Lonnie Durham, that the defendant was liable for the full value of the life of the deceased and that it was liable for medical and funeral expenses in specified amounts. The defendant in this appeal does not seriously contest the jury finding of liability as to it, but attacks certain amendments added by the plaintiffs after verdict which name Frances Durham plaintiff in her individual capacity as widow of the decedent. In the cross appeal Frances Durham contends that the evidence adduced demanded a finding that she was not the widow, and that her motion for a partial directed verdict on this issue should have been granted.
but she signed an application for appointment as administratrix of the estate which listed her as wife, although she testified that she did not read the document or notice the error at the time. Peacock v. Peacock, 196 Ga. 441, 448 (26 SE2d 608) (1943), holds that the presumption of common law marriage arising from certain circumstances is overcome by testimony of the plaintiff which conclusively shows that she did not regard herself as the wife of the defendant. However, in the present case the plaintiff is charged with knowledge of the contents of her application for letters of administration and the statement there could have been taken by the jury as the admission of a party opponent and thus entitled to be believed although contrary to her testimony. Although the great weight of the evidence indicates that the parties had not agreed in praesenti to renew their spousal relationship, and it was because of this fact that Frances Durham brought the action in her capacity of next friend of her minor child, we cannot say as a matter of law that the jury had no right to find otherwise. The judgment on the cross appeal is affirmed.
2. The right to add a party plaintiff in her individual capacity. Francis Durham was a party to this action as guardian and next friend of her minor child and as administratrix of the father's estate, but she did not consider herself married to him at the time of his death and consequently in the original suit made no personal claim against the tortfeasor. Had the defendant raised this issue prior to the pre-trial hearing it might well have been settled at that point; however, the defendant's amendment was first allowed and filed on the day of the trial, and the jury, perhaps out of misguided sympathy for the plaintiff, chose to believe that she was in fact the wife of the deceased as she stated in her application for letters of administration. At this point it first became evident that the wrongful death action lay with her in her individual capacity (Code 105-1302) and that she would hold the recovery for herself and her minor child in equal parts (Code 105-1304, 113-903 (3)) rather than holding it all in trust for her child.
The defendant contends that Code 81A-115 (b) is not pertinent to the situation because it was raised by the defendant for the purpose of showing a misjoinder of actions, and not by the plaintiff to make a claim as a widow. This argument is too sophistical: It does not matter, until it is made to appear that there is a hiatus in the parties before the court, whether the issue is settled or not. It was raised by the defendant, but does not necessarily have the result hoped for by the defendant, that of dismissal of the case for lack of proper parties "No action shall be dismissed on the ground that it is not prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest until a reasonable time has been allowed after objection for ratification of commencement of the action by, or joinder or substitution of, the real party in interest; and such ratification, joinder or substitution shall have the same effect as if the action had been commenced in the name of the real party in interest." Code 81A-117. In view of the jury verdict, Frances Durham was the real party at interest. There is no provision for children of a deceased father to institute a wrongful death action while the widow is still in life. Odom v. Atlanta & W. P. R. Co., 78 Ga. App. 477 (51 SE2d 466) (1949). This brings us back to Code 81A-115 (b) which allows amendments of pleading to conform to the evidence, and to Code 81A-115 (c) which specifies that such an amendment relates back to the date of the original pleading whenever the claim "asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading." It then continues by pointing out specifically that an amendment changing the party against whom a claim is asserted relates back to the date of the original pleading when these conditions are satisfied. Here we have an amendment changing not the party against whom but the capacity of the party by whom the claim is presented. It was the defendant who made the contention that Frances Durham as widow was the proper party plaintiff and it is in no wise harmed that the jury adopted its contention, or that the plaintiff, upon this resolution of the case, amended to conform to it. The amendments were properly admitted, and judgment entered accordingly. Atlanta Newspapers, Inc. v. Shaw, 123 Ga. App. 848 (182 SE2d 683) (1971); Gordon v. Gillespie, 135 Ga. App. 369 (217 SE2d 628) (1975). As to
the covalent federal rule, see Williams v. United States, 405 F2d 234 (8).
3. The defendant, prior to the pre-trial order, also alleged that the complaint failed to state a claim "in that there is a misjoinder of actions." Failure to state a claim results in dismissal; misjoinder does not. Code 81A-121 provides: "Parties may be dropped or added by order of the court on motion of any party or of its own initiative at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just. Any claim against a party may be severed and proceeded with separately." Here the jury was correctly instructed as to the claims for full value of the decedent's life and that for medical and funeral expenses and the verdict reflected the various elements of liability. There was no motion that the claims be tried severally. No error appears here.
She then stated that this was her best recollection. In view of the fact that the ruling was discretionary, that the witness was obviously hesitant, and that the actual circumstances of the defendant driver's route were otherwise before the jury, we do not find this ruling to be reversible error. "It is the duty of the trial court to insure that the sequestration rule, once invoked, is adhered to." Benefield v. State, 140 Ga. App. 727, 731 (232 SE2d 89) (1976).
Judgment affirmed. Smith and Banke, JJ., concur.
James D. Maddox, Jerry L. Minge, Robert H. Cleveland, for appellees (Case no. 56198).
Williston C. White, for appellant (Case no. 56198).
Smith, Cohen, Ringel, Kohler & Martin, Williston C. White, Harold A. Horne, Jr., Harvey S. Gray, Hamilton & Minge, Jerry L. Minge, Downey, Cleveland & Moore, Robert H. Cleveland, for appellees (Case no. 56197).
Smith, Shaw, Maddox, Davidson & Graham, James D. Maddox, for appellant (Case no. 56197).
Friday May 22 04:07 EDT

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