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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
COOLEY v. TATE.
34288.
Damages; from Hall Superior Court-- Judge Edmondson. July 23, 1952.
GARDNER, P. J.
Where, on the trial of a case brought by the plaintiff to recover damages of the defendant for the negligence of his servant under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the undisputed evidence shows that the servant, in driving the defendant's tractor at the time of the collision resulting in the plaintiff's injury, was not engaged in the prosecution of the defendant's business and was not acting within the scope of his employment, it was not error for the trial judge to direct a verdict in favor of the defendant employer and master.
Joe Harry Cooley, a minor 20 years of age, (hereinafter called the plaintiff) by H. G. Cooley, his father, as next friend, brought suit in Hall Superior Court against O. C. Tate Jr. (hereinafter called the defendant), seeking to recover damages for personal injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of H. D. Coleman, the defendant's employee and servant, in the operation of a tractor belonging to said defendant. The defendant denied liability, admitting in his answer that Coleman was his servant and operated this tractor for him in hauling produce, but denying that Coleman was engaged in the prosecution of his business at the time the plaintiff was injured. The case came on for trial, and, from the evidence adduced, the following undisputed facts appeared:
The defendant, called as a witness by the plaintiff, testified on cross-examination to the effect that he was engaged in the produce business; that he employed H. D. Coleman to drive a tractor and trailer belonging to him in hauling produce; that on the occasion in question said Coleman had brought a load of bananas from Florida to the State Farmers' Market in Atlanta; that Coleman's duties in driving this tractor did not include the trip on the occasion when the plaintiff was injured; and that when the plaintiff was injured said Coleman was not using the tractor in and about the defendant's produce business and was not using the same with his consent. The plaintiff testified as to his injuries and that while riding in an automobile of one Charles A. Dyche, a tractor being driven by H. D. Coleman struck the automobile in which the plaintiff was riding and he was injured as alleged. The plaintiff testified that this occurred after 10 p.m. on October 10, 1950, and on the Campbellton Road leading out of Atlanta, and Coleman was driving this tractor westerly along said road towards Douglasville, Georgia. The plaintiff further testified to the effect that this collision resulted from the negligence of Coleman in the operation of the tractor. H. D. Coleman testified that the tractor involved in the collision belonged to the defendant; that he was employed by the defendant at the time at a salary of $75 weekly, the witness defraying his living expenses therefrom; that several days before this accident, the defendant sent the witness to Florida with a load of produce and on the night of October 10, 1950, the witness returned to Atlanta and to the Farmers' Market with a load of bananas for sale; that the defendant resided in Gainesville, Georgia, and the witness was in charge of this tractor and trailer from the time he left Gainesville until he returned and had the right to use it to go anywhere to get a load of produce in connection with the defendant's business; that the defendant had never given him permission to use the tractor, when off on business for the defendant, to transport him to and from his lodging place, nor had he ever forbidden him to so use the tractor, no request to do so ever having been made by the witness to the defendant; that no permission had been given to him by the defendant on the night of October 10, 1950, or on any other occasion, to use this tractor to go from the market in Atlanta to Douglasville which is some 25 miles away from the market, to spend the night there with his brother; and
that the defendant had no interest whatever in Coleman making this trip which was purely personal to Coleman, the employee and servant of the defendant.
This witness further testified that when he was away from Gainesville on business for the defendant he used this tractor to go to and from his lodging places and he presumed that the defendant knew about this; that on the night of October 10, when he arrived at the market in Atlanta with this load of bananas he disconnected the trailer from the tractor, and proceeded with the latter to go to Douglasville to spend the night with his brother, and that when he had driven about five miles from Atlanta on the Campbellton Road, this accident happened. This witness further testified: "When I carried the tractor to Douglasville I did not intend to get a load (of produce) from Atlanta to Gainesville. I was intending to get a load of chickens and carry them back to Miami."
Upon the conclusion of the evidence, the defendant moved that the court direct a verdict in his favor, which motion the court granted, and a verdict for the defendant was accordingly directed. The plaintiff excepted directly to this court.
"Every person shall be liable for torts committed by his wife, his child, or his servant, by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same shall be by negligence or voluntary." Code, 105-108. So, "If an owner of an automobile is sued for damages on account of an injury caused by the negligent operation of it by his chauffeur, the rules of law touching master and servant will ordinarily be applied for the determination of the liability of the former for the act of the latter." Fielder v. Davison, 139 Ga. 509 (2) (77 S. E. 618). It is by virtue of the foregoing principle of law that the defendant can be held responsible to the plaintiff on account of the injuries alleged to have been sustained by him and which are sued for by the plaintiff in this action. In a proper case the negligence of the defendant's servant and the driver of his tractor, H. D. Coleman, in the operation of this motor vehicle, would be imputed to the defendant, and he would be liable to the plaintiff for the damage caused by this negligence under the doctrine of respondeat superior. However, in order for the master to be liable in such a case the tortious conduct of the servant must have been by the command of the master or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business. See Jordan v. Thompson, 58 Ga. App. 199, 200 (198 S. E. 302), and cit. It must appear that the negligence of the defendant's servant arose in a transaction in the doing of which the servant was actually engaged in the performance of his master's business. "Where a servant, while not engaged in the performance of his master's business and during a time when he is free to engage in his own pursuits, uses his master's automobile for his own purposes (although he does so with the knowledge and consent of his master), and, while so using it, negligently injures another by its operation, the master is not liable." Eason v. Joy Floral Co., 34 Ga. App. 501 (130 S. E. 352), and see Dovgherty v. Woodward, 21 Ga. App. 427 (94 S. E. 636). "If while a servant is not engaged in the performance of his master's business, and during a time when he is free to engage in his own pursuits, his master lends him an automobile, and while he is using it for his own pleasure, disconnected from any business of the master, he negligently injures another by its operation, the servant will stand in the same position as would another borrower, and the master will not be liable for his acts, on the doctrine of respondeat superior." Fielder v. Davison, supra, headnote 5. "As a general rule, conceding the negligence of the operator of an automobile, the owner thereof, when not riding in the car, is not liable for injuries proximately resulting from such negligence, merely because he is the owner of the vehicle." See Graham v. Cleveland, 58 Ga. App. 810 (200 S. E. 184), and cases cited on page 811. The fact that the defendant made no objection to his servant, Coleman, using this tractor in order to go to and from his lodging place, would not render the defendant liable for an injury resulting from the alleged negligence of Coleman in the operation of this tractor when he drove it on the night of the collision from the market in Atlanta towards Douglasville, for the purpose of spending the night with his brother in the latter place. As a general rule, the owner of an automobile is not "liable for the
negligence of the operator of his automobile merely because he consented, expressly or impliedly, to its operation by such person." Graham v. Cleveland, supra; Burden v. Maddox, 73 Ga. App. 491, 493 (37 S. E. 2d, 219). It is stated by this court in Graham v. Cleveland, supra, p. 813, quoting the late Judge Taft, that "The question is one of agency. The result is determined by the answer to the further question, whose work was the servant doing? and, under whose control was he doing it?" Byrne v. K. C. F. S. & M. R. Co., 61 Fed. 605.
But it is insisted by counsel for the plaintiff that the fact that the evidence showed that at the time of the collision the tractor injuring him belonged to the defendant, and that the driver thereof was the defendant's servant, coupled with the fact that "said employee had said tractor and trailer in his charge on business for the master on said date," raised the presumption that at the time of the collision the defendant's employee, said Coleman, "was using said tractor in the business of the defendant." The case of Gallagher v. Gunn, 16 Ga. App. 600 (85 S. E. 930), in which it was held by this court that, "When the plaintiff's evidence showed that the defendant was the owner of the automobile that injured him, and that the chauffeur operating the machine at the time of the injury was the defendant's servant, the presumption arose that the servant was engaged in the master's business and within the scope of his employment; and the burden was then upon the defendant to show that the machine was not his, or that the chauffeur was not his servant, or that the servant was not at the time of the injury engaged in the prosecution of the defendant's business," is relied upon by the plaintiff. It is true that in a proper case such presumption arises. See Haygood v. Bell, 42 Ga. App. 602 (157 S. E. 239), Yellow Cab Co. v. Nelson, 35 Ga. App. 694 (134 S. E. 822). However, the undisputed and clearly stated facts here do not show a situation giving rise to such presumption. Here the evidence was without contradiction that the defendant had no control whatever over the driver of this tractor in going to and from his lodging on this, or any other occasion when he was on the road for his employer, and that the servant was entirely on his own in using the defendant's tractor for such purpose. This is not a case where the defendant's servant in the prosecution of his master's business deviated slightly, therefrom, that is, where the servant "while engaged in the business of his master, makes a slight deviation for ends of his own, the master remains liable when the act was so closely connected with the master's affairs that, though the servant may derive some benefit from it, it may nevertheless fairly be regarded as within the course of his employment." Limerick v. Roberts, 32 Ga. App. 755 (1 a,b) (124 S. E. 806). "Where there is a deviation, the question should ordinarily be submitted to the jury as to whether or not the deviation from the master's business was slight, so slight as not to affect the master's responsibility for the negligent act." Parker v. Smith, 66 Ga. App. 567, 569 (18 S. E. 2d, 559). See also Atlanta Coca Cola Bottling Co. v. Brown, 46 Ga. App. 451 (167 S. E. 776) and cit.; Henderson v. Nolting First Mortgage Corp., 184 Ga. 724 (193 S. E. 347, 114 A. L. R. 1022); Jump v. Anderson, 58 Ga. App. 126 (197 S. E. 644); Bunch v. McLeskey, 173 Ga. 545 (161 S. E. 128).
Here we have a case where the undisputed facts plainly show that when the plaintiff was injured the defendant's servant was acting for himself and was not engaged "at all in the defendant's business and within the scope of his employment. The test is not that the act of the servant was done during the existence of the employment, but whether the servant was at that time serving the master. L. & N. R. Co. v. Hudson, 10 Ga. App. 169, 172 (73 S. E. 30). The evidence shows that the servant was driving the tractor at the time on business of his own, to Douglasville, in order to spend the night with his brother there, and was engaged in an enterprise wholly unconnected with the business of his employment with the defendant, which was that of driver of the defendant's tractor and trailer in hauling produce, and that the servant did not request or have the consent of the defendant to make this trip. We do not have a case from which the jury might be authorized to find that, while the servant was engaged in a matter from which he might derive some benefit, it was so closely connected with his master's affairs that it could fairly be regarded as within the course of his employment. Only one construction may reasonably be placed upon the undisputed evidence here, and that is that the servant was not engaged in the prosecution of the defendant's business at the time of the collision resulting in the plaintiff's injury, and that no other verdict could have been rendered by the jury except one finding in favor of the defendant. Code, 110-104; Biederman v. Jones, 183 Ga. 351 (188 S. E. 519); Mize v. Paschal, 206 Ga. 189 (56 S. E. 2d, 266); Bowles v. White, 206 Ga. 343 (57 S. E. 2d, 187); Seabolt v. Christian, 82 Ga. App. 167 (60 S. E. 2d, 540).
It follows that the trial court did not err in directing the verdict for the defendant and that such verdict was not contrary to law and was demanded under the evidence.
Judgment affirmed. Townsend and Carlisle, JJ., concur.
Wheeler, Robinson & Thurmond, R. Wilson Smith Jr., contra.
G. Fred Kelley, John R. Strother, Young H. Fraser, for plaintiff in error.
DECIDED OCTOBER 16, 1952.
Saturday May 23 04:40 EDT


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