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Damages. Before Judge Flournoy. Polk City Court. March 23, 1954.
1. The instructions of the court complained of were not error, it appearing from the charge as a whole that the court stated a correct rule for the determination of damages resulting from lost earnings, and did not mislead the jury into believing that they could set an arbitrary figure without regard to the evidence as compensation for this element of damages.
2. The charge of the court relative to the contentions of the parties was not argumentative or an expression of opinion as to who should prevail in the case.
3. While it is better practice always to give an apt and pertinent legal request to charge in the language requested, it is not, as here, reversible error to fail to use the exact language of the request where the substance of the same is fairly presented by the whole charge.
4. The verdict was authorized by the evidence, and, having the approval of the trial court, it will not be reversed by this court.
Willie Mae Gibson filed suit in the City Court of Polk County against the Central of Georgia Railway Company for personal injuries resulting to her when the automobile in which she was riding collided with a train belonging to the defendant. The plaintiff was the owner of the automobile, which was at the time being driven by her husband as her agent. The evidence, construed in its light most favorable to upholding the verdict in her favor, was substantially as follows: That the plaintiff was being driven in an easterly direction along Jefferson Street in Cedartown, Georgia, approaching the railway crossing; that at that point the defendant line has a set of six railroad tracks across the road, the tracks being approximately eight feet across; that the plaintiff's husband, when he came to the railroad crossing, stopped; that he then commenced to cross the tracks, going at a speed of between five and ten miles per hour; that on the fifth track as he proceeded across them, on the north or left side of the roadway, there was a line of standing boxcars which came right up to the roadway, and which blocked the driver's view of the sixth track on the north side of the road; that as he passed the fifth track and was entering the sixth track the plaintiff and her husband were for the first time aware that an engine was approaching them on the sixth track, moving at a speed of about five or ten miles an hour; that the engine was right upon him, and her husband, who was entering the sixth track at the time and was therefore unable to stop attempted to accelerate the automobile and get across to a place of safety, but the engine hit the rear portion of the car, knocking it several feet, and causing the plaintiff's injuries. The plaintiff, her husband, and an eyewitness testified that there was no warning signal given, no watchman at the track, and no bell or other warning device to warn those crossing the track of the approach of the engine. It was undisputed that the line of boxcars, which had been placed in the position in which they were at the time of the collision by the defendant's employees shortly before, effectively blocked the vision of both the driver of the automobile and the engineer. At the moment of impact the front end of the automobile was entirely clear of the track. The plaintiff proved injuries resulting from this collision. The jury returned a verdict in her favor. Thereafter the defendant made a motion for new trial on the general grounds, and later amended by the addition of certain special grounds, only four of which are insisted upon in this court. The denying of the motion for new trial as amended is assigned as error.
1. In special ground 2 of the amended motion for a new trial error is assigned on a portion of the charge as follows: "If you find that the plaintiff is entitled to recover you would assess damages to her in just such sum as you think would be fair compensation for her pain and suffering and the impairment of earning capacity and lost earnings", on the ground that it is unsound as an abstract principle of law, incorrectly states the rule of the measure of damages for lost earnings, induced the jury to believe they could set any compensation they thought fair for lost earnings regardless of the evidence and confused them as to the methods for estimating different elements of damage. A charge which leaves elements of actual damage, the amounts of which are provable (such as lost earnings, medical expenses, property damage, and so on) to the enlightened conscience of the jury to be determined as they determine the amount of damage for such elements as pain and suffering, is error requiring the grant of a new trial. Linder v. Brown, 137 Ga. 352, 353 (73 S. E. 734); Southern Ry. Co. v. Broughton, 128 Ga. 814 (58 S. E. 470); Wadley v. Dooley, 138 Ga. 275 (75 S. E. 153); Southern Ry. Co. v. Nappier, 138 Ga. 31 (74 S. E. 778); Atlantic & Birmingham Ry. Co. v. Bowen, 125 Ga. 460 (54 S. E. 105); Central Railroad Co. v. Senn, 73 Ga. 705. No such error, however, was committed by the court in this case, for, immediately after the excerpt from the charge complained of, he charged that "there is no standard by which you can measure [pain and suffering] except the enlightened conscience of impartial jurors. As to impairment of earning capacity . . . consider whether this impairment has ceased or will continue in the future. If you find it has ceased, you would of course consider only the impairment and loss of earnings during the period up to the time it ceased to be impaired. . . If you find there will be a loss of earnings in the future, you would be authorized to consider that. It would be your duty to reduce to its present cash value the amount of any such loss." The court then charged a rule for reducing the amount found to its present cash value. The jury could not have been confused thereby into believing that they might set an arbitrary figure for lost earnings regardless of the evidence, and the charge, considered as a whole, was not error. Cf. Powell v. Jarrell, 65 Ga. App. 453 (16 S. E. 2d 198). This special ground is without merit.
3. Special grounds 4 and 5 of the amended motion for new trial complain of the refusal of the trial court to give in charge the following written requests: (a) "If at the time of the injury an ordinarily prudent person, in the exercise of the degree of care and caution which such a person generally uses, would have reasonably apprehended that the railroad might be negligent at the time and Place where the injury occurred, and, so apprehending the probability of the existence of such negligence, could have taken steps to prevent the injury, then the person injured cannot recover, if she failed to exercise that degree of care and caution usually exercised by an ordinarily prudent person to ascertain whether the negligence which might have been reasonably apprehended really existed." (b) "If you should find from the evidence that the standing railroad car or cars obstructed the view of the approaching train, and that at the time and place of the injury, such standing car or cars would have caused an ordinarily prudent person to reasonably apprehend the probability, even if not the possibility, of danger to herself from a train in driving onto the crossing, then she was required to take such steps as an ordinarily prudent person would have taken to ascertain whether such danger existed, as well as to avoid the consequences of the same after its existence was ascertained; and if you find she failed to do this, and was injured, she will not be allowed to recover, if by taking proper precautions she could have avoided the consequences of the negligence of the railroad." These requests are quoted or adapted from Western & A. R. Co. v. Ferguson, 113 Ga. 708, 717 (39 S. E. 306, 54 L. R. A. 802). The rule of law therein contained is expressed by Code 105-603 as follows: "If the plaintiff by ordinary care could have avoided the consequences to himself caused by the defendant's negligence, he is not entitled to recover. In other cases the defendant is not relieved, although the plaintiff may in some way have contributed to the injury sustained." As to this rule of law, the court charged as follows: "The plaintiff cannot recover if her injuries were caused by her own negligence, nor if she, by the exercise of ordinary care, could have avoided the consequences of the defendant's negligence, if you find that the defendant was negligent, after it was known or in the exercise of ordinary care should have been known to her. . . If . . . in the exercise of ordinary care, the plaintiff's husband saw or should have seen the train approaching in time to . . . have avoided being struck by the train by the use of ordinary care, and his failure to use such care . . . was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries, then the plaintiff could not recover . . . A person cannot heedlessly mash into grave peril, of the existence of which he is perfectly aware, and then hold anyone else, whether negligent or not, responsible for the consequences. . . If you find that this occurred, this, in and of itself, would amount to a failure to exercise ordinary care, and the plaintiff would not be entitled to recover. . . If you find from the evidence that the driver of the automobile in which the plaintiff was riding, in the exercise of ordinary care, could or should have seen the approaching train in time to have stopped the automobile before a collision, and the failure to use such ordinary care was the sole and proximate cause of the accident, then in such event the plaintiff could not recover."
The rule set forth in Werk v. Big Bunker Hill Mining Corp., 193 Ga. 217 (17 S. E. 2d 825) is recognized, to the effect that an apt and timely request should be given by the court, and that, unless the request as given is equally as pertinent and concrete as that requested, failure to give in charge the written request will be erroneous. Here, however, the charge as given set forth the principles of law involved as adequately, and somewhat plainly, than the charge requested. In view of the ruling in Brunswick Light Co. v. Gale, 91 Ga. 813 (5) (18 S. E. 11), refusal to give these requests in the exact language requested cannot be held reversible error.
Further, the court did charge, in the language of the Ferguson case, as follows: "The duty imposed by law upon all persons to exercise ordinary care to avoid the consequences of, another's negligence shall not arise until the negligence of such other is existing and is either apparent or the circumstances are such that an ordinarily prudent person would have reason to apprehend its existence. I charge you further that failure to exercise ordinary care on the part of the person injured, before the negligence complained of is apparent or should have been reasonably apprehended, would not preclude a recovery, but would authorize" a diminution of damages. This was plainly to imply that the duty to exercise ordinary care to avoid the consequences of another's negligence does arise when the negligence of the other is apparent or the circumstances are such that an ordinarily prudent person would apprehend its existence. Parker v. Ga. Pac. Ry. Co., 83 Ga. 539, 540 (8c) (10 S. E. 233). While this court always considers it the better practice to give an apt and pertinent legal request to charge in the language of the request, no error appears here such as to require the reversal of this case. These grounds are without merit.
4. It is further contended by the plaintiff in error that the motion for new trial should have been granted on the general grounds because the evidence demands a finding that the plaintiff, through her husband who was driving her car at her direction, failed to exercise ordinary care for her own safety in not apprehending and avoiding the negligence of the defendant, and that such failure precludes her from recovery. The evidence is undisputed that the plaintiff's husband was familiar with the crossing; that he stopped before entering it and then proceeded across slowly; that as he did so he glanced up and down the track and did not see the backing switch engine; that he did see the row of boxcars on the fifth track, and could not see the switch engine, which was moving up behind them, nor could the engineer see him for the same reason; that there was a distance of about 8 feet between the fifth and sixth tracks and he did not stop between those tracks, but proceeded on across after he entered the crossing. Further, there is evidence authorizing the finding that the switch engine crew had placed the boxcars in the position in which they were located about 15 minutes previously, thus blocking the engineer's view of the road as he approached and crossed it; that there was no bell, watchman, warning or other signal given. The plaintiff and her husband testified that they were already on the track before they could see the engine approaching and that the best thing to do then was to try to get across, which they attempted. The engine struck the real of the automobile.
It was held in Callaway v. Pickard, 68 Ga. App. 637 (23 S. E. 2d 564) that one who stops at a crossing and then proceeds across the track, and is hit by a train which he did not see or hear, and which was concealed from his vision because of certain obstacles along the track, is not so negligent as to preclude his recovery as a matter of law, in attempting to cross the track. The case here is stronger for the plaintiff, in that he had actually to enter the crossing, and stop upon some of the railway tracks, and even then it is uncertain whether he could have seen around the boxcars and onto the sixth track without either driving upon that track or getting out of the car to look while it was parked upon other railway tracks. It is a jury question whether, under such circumstances, reasonable caution would forbid one going forward in reliance upon his sense of hearing, unaided by that of sight. Pekora v. Wabash Ry. Co., 292 U. S. 98 (54 Sup. Ct. 580, 78 L. ed. 1149, 91 A. L. R. 1049); Central of Ga. Ry. Co. v. Leonard, 49 Ga. App. 689, 706 (176 S. E. 137). As stated in Richmond & Danville R. Co. v. Howard, 79 Ga. 44 (2) (3 S. E. 426): "Failure of the injured party in the use of ordinary care by untimely stepping upon a railroad track at a public crossing is no complete bar to the recovery of damages, unless by the use of ordinary care the consequences due to the negligence of the other party could have been avoided. And whether they could or not is a question for the jury." Under the circumstances of this case, it was entirely a jury question as to whether the plaintiff, in the exercise or ordinary care, should have apprehended the negligence of the defendant in time to avoid the same, and the circumstances of this case distinguish it from situations cited in the brief of the plaintiff in error in which it was held to be "plain and indisputable" that the plaintiff's lack of ordinary care was the sole proximate cause of the injuries received. For example, in Southern Ry. Co. v. Maddox, 63 Ga. App. 508 (11 S. E. 2d 501) the plaintiff made a turn into the railway track, and testified that he would have hit the engine whether it had been moving or not. In Southern Ry. Co. v. Frazier, 40 Ga. App. 364 (149 S. E. 425), the plaintiff was guilty of negligence per se in speeding, among other things. In Coleman v. Western & Atlantic R., 48 Ga. App. 343 (172 S. E. 577), the plaintiff, who was walking, stepped blindly out in front of a passing train. In Southern Ry. Co. v. Parkman, 61 Ga. App. 62 (5 S. E. 2d 685), the plaintiff, who was walking alongside the track, turned left to cross it; he admitted that, had he looked back as he did so, he would have seen the train approaching.
These and other cases cited belong in the "plain and indisputable facts" category; they may be decided as a matter of law. But where,' as here, the plaintiff is already upon the tracks, where he looks and listens but sees and hears nothing, and then proceeds, what, if anything, he should do further in order to apprehend the negligence of the defendant (which he is not required to anticipate, see W. & A. R. Co. v. Ferguson, supra, p. 713), is a jury question.
The trial court did not err in overruling the motion for a new trial.
Judgment affirmed. Gardner, P. J., and Carlisle, J., concur.
Arnold & Gambrell, Dan Winn, contra.
Stewart & York, Matthews, Maddox, Walton & Smith, for plaintiff in error.
Saturday May 23 03:28 EDT

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