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DIXON v. ROSS et al.
Tort; prior recovery. Before Judge Anderson. Richmond Superior Court. December 8, 1955.
Where it appears that the plaintiff has recovered from her husband's employer under the Federal Employer's Liability Act for the husband's death resulting from a collision between the employer's train and the present defendant's truck, the present action for the husband's death against the truck owner is barred and the court did not err in sustaining the defendant's general demurrer to the petition and in dismissing the action.
Mrs. Gladys Murray Dixon sued Brantford B. Ross, doing business as Ross Trucking Company and Ross's insurance carrier, National Indemnity Company, for damages for the death of her husband allegedly caused by the defendant's negligence. The plaintiff's husband was employed by the Savannah & Atlanta Railway Company and was killed in a collision between one of his employer's trains and a truck owned and operated by Ross. This action is predicated on the negligent operation of the truck by Ross's driver. In an amendment to the petition the plaintiff alleged the following: "That Mrs. Gladys Murray Dixon as administratrix of the estate of Thomas Charles Dixon, for the benefit of Mrs. Gladys Murray Dixon widow of Thomas Charles Dixon and for Thomas Neal Dixon age (10) years and Ted Eugene Dixon age (8) years, brought action in the Superior Court of Screven County, Georgia, against the Savannah & Atlanta Railway Company, under the Federal Employer's Liability Act, for negligence in the death of Thomas Charles Dixon, said case was tried and a verdict and judgment rendered in said case for the plaintiff for $10,000, which said judgment has been paid to Mrs. Gladys Murray Dixon as administratrix."
The defendant's renewed general demurrer to the petition as amended was sustained and the action was dismissed and the plaintiff excepts.
The defendant in error contends that the recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act for the death of the husband and father bars the present action. The contention is meritorious.
The decedent was survived by his widow and two minor children. The F. E. L. A. (45 U. S. C. A., Sec. 51) gave the right of action against the railroad to the personal representative of the decedent for the benefit of the widow and children. The Georgia statute vests the right of action in the case of wrongful death of a husband and father in the widow (Code 105-1302) to be held by her subject to the law of descents, as if it were personal property descending to the widow and children from the deceased. Code 105-1304. So, under the facts of this case, the right of action which would have accrued under the State statute would have been for the benefit of the same persons as benefited from the action under the Federal statute.
The amount of recovery under the F. E. L. A. is so nearly equivalent to that recoverable under Georgia law and is so substantially based on the same principal factor, to wit, earning capacity, that recovery under both laws would amount to a double recovery for the same wrong, despite the fact that under State law the recovery could theoretically be larger than the recovery under the F. E. L. A. Compare 45 U. S. C. A., Sec. 51, Notes 1553-1557, pp. 842-847; Central of Ga. Ry. Co. v. Goens, 30 Ga. App. 770 (7) (119 S. E. 669) with Code 105-1308 catchwords "Measure of damages."
There can be only one recovery for damage by joint tortfeasors, (Donaldson v. Carmichael, 102 Ga. 40, 42, 29 S. E. 135), and this applies even though the joint tortfeasors could not be joined in the same action under the Federal statute. Griffin Hosiery Mills v. United Hosiery Mills, 31 Ga. App. 450 (120 S. E. 789); Friedlander v. Feinberg, 27 Ga. App. 808 (2) (110 S. E. 26). As was stated in Southern Ry. Co. v. Allen, 88 Ga. App. 435 (77 S. E. 2d 277) it would be monstrous to allow a recovery for a wrongful death under the State statute from one joint tortfeasor when there has been a recovery for the same death under the Federal statute from the other joint tortfeasor. The plaintiff had the option of suing the railroad by itself under the Federal statute or of suing either or both the railroad and the trucking company under the State statute ( Southern Ry. Co. v. Allen, supra) and since she has exercised that option by suing the railroad and recovering under the Federal statute, she cannot now sue the trucking company under the State law.
The court did not err in sustaining the general demurrer to the amended petition and in dismissing the action.
QUILLIAN, J., dissenting. l dissent from the majority opinion. The Georgia courts have never held, except for the obiter expression contained in Southern Ry. Co. v. Allen, 88 Ga. App. 435, referred to in the majority opinion, that a separate right of action arises out of a single wrong jointly committed by joint tortfeasors, and the prosecution and satisfaction of one of such rights debars recovery of the other.
Of course where the misconduct or negligence of several tortfeasors combines to proximately cause damage to another for which under the law the injured party has a single right of action, the satisfaction of such right extinguishes it altogether, inures to the benefit of all parties liable, and debars a further recovery on that cause of action.
The obiter holding in the case of Southern Ry. Co. v. Allen, supra, is opposed to the statute law of the State as expressed in Code 3-114 and is, in my opinion contrary to the previous pronouncements of this court and the Supreme Court. The cases cited in the majority opinion do not support the holding that a recovery by the deceased's administratrix under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (U. S. C. A., Vol. 45, 51) of such amount as would reasonably compensate for the pecuniary loss they sustained by reason of the deceased's death, and the satisfaction of such recovery debars the widow of the deceased from recovering for her benefit and that of the deceased's children the full present cash value of his life under Code 105-1304.
Donaldson v. Carmichael, 102 Ga. 40, 42 (29 S. E. 135), does not support the theory upon which the majority opinion is based. The holding there is simply that if there is a full satisfaction of a right of action, it is extinguished and cannot be further enforced by the plaintiff against one participating in the tort giving rise to that cause of action.
In Griffin Hosiery Mills v. United Hosiery Mills, 31 Ga. App. 450 (1) (120 S. E. 789), cited in the majority opinion, is simply enunciated the familiar principle that there can be "but one satisfaction of the same damage or injury." This is certainly not authority for the proposition that the satisfaction of one right authorizes the satisfaction of an entirely different right arising out of the same transaction.
1025, 59 L. R. 590, 94 Am. St. R. 141); Republic Iron & Steel Co. v. Norris, 25 Ga. App. 809 (104 S. E. 921)."
Further reviewing the Donaldson case, supra, and the many Georgia cases that have followed it, the rule seems well settled that a partial payment by a joint tortfeasor of the amount to which the plaintiff is entitled only reduces the claim against another participating in the commission of the wrongful act pro tanto. If the settlement is in full, the entire right of the plaintiff is extinguished. Griffin Hosiery Mills v. United Hosiery Mills, supra; Allen v. Landers, 39 Ga. App. 264 (146 S. E. 794); Edmondson v. Hancock, 40 Ga. App. 587 (151 S. E. 114); Caplan v. Caplan, 62 Ga. App. 577 (9 S. E. 2d 96); Gorman v. Griffin, 70 Ga. App. 585 (4) (28 S. E. 2d 897).
Fulcher, Fulcher & Hagler, John F. Hardin, William C. Reed, contra.
H. Cliff Hatcher, for plaintiff in error.
DECIDED JULY 12, 1956.
Saturday May 23 02:21 EDT

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