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Figueroa v. Majors

Supreme Court of Arizona

April 29, 1959

Charles FIGUEROA and Betty Figueroa, husband and wife, Appellants,
James A. MAJORS and Charlotte Majors, husband and wife, Appellees.

[85 Ariz. 346] May, Lesher & Dees, and Robert O. Barber, Tucson, for appellants.

Joseph H. Riley, John P. Sullivan and Nick Knez, Tucson, for appellees.

JOHNSON, Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment entered on a directed verdict in favor of the defendants, James A. Majors and his wife, in an action brought to recover damages for an injury sustained by the plaintiff, Charles Figueroa, which was alleged to have been caused by the negligence of said defendants.

The complaint of plaintiff alleged that on or about May 30, 1955, while in the employ of defendants, he was directed to drive a truck and trailer owned by defendants from Tucson, Arizona to Ruidoso, New Mexico. It was further alleged that plaintiff, as directed, undertook to drive defendants' vehicle to New Mexico; that said truck and trailer were not fit for reasonably safe operation on the highways; and that defendants knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, that they were not reasonably safe. It was further alleged that as a result of the unsafe condition of the vehicles provided by the defendants, the truck and trailer overturned

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while being driven near Hatch, New Mexico, cusing total and permanent injuries to the plaintiff.

At the conclusion of the plaintiff's case defendants moved for a directed verdict on the grounds that plaintiff had introduced no evidence to show any negligence on the part of the defendants. The trial court granted the motion for a directed verdict on the grounds that the evidence was too speculative to establish liability. Therefore, we are concerned only with the question whether there was error in directing a verdict in favor of the defendants.

It is well settled in this jursidiction that a motion for a directed verdict for the defendant admits the truth of whatever competent evidence the opposing party has introduced, including all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom, and requires that the evidence be interpreted most strongly against the moving party and in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Matsumato v. Arizona Sand & Rock Company, 80 Ariz. 232, 295 P.2d 850, 56 A.L.R.2d 1385; Savage v. Boies, 77 Ariz. 355, 272 P.2d 349; Callaway v. Smith, 70 Ariz. 364, 220 P.2d 857; Nichols v. City of Phoenix, 68 Ariz. 124, 202 P.2d 201. It is further fundamental that a verdict will not be directed where the evidence on material facts is conflicting, or where on undisputed facts reasonable and fairminded men may differ as to the inferences and conclusions to be drawn, or where different conclusions might reasonably be [85 Ariz. 347] reached by different minds, and thus the question of negligence and proximate cause is one of fact to be submitted to the jury and not a question of law for the court; if, upon all the facts and circumstances, there is a reasonable chance or likelihood of the conclusions of reasonable men differing, then the question is one for the jury. Cope v. Southern Pacific Co., 66 Ariz. 197, 185 P.2d 772; Durham v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. of California, 47 Ariz. 280, 55 P.2d 648; Matsumato v. Arizona Sand & Rock Company, supra.

With these rules in mind we will review the plaintiff's evidence which reveals the following facts:

The defendants were the owners and breeders of race horses, and four or five days prior to the accident involved herein they employed the plaintiff to exercise, groom and generally care for the defendants' horses. Plaintiff had been given instructions to drive defendants' truck and horse trailer, with two horses, from Tucson, Arizona, to join defendant in New Mexico. In accordance with such instructions the plaintiff, on May 30, 1955, at about 9:00 o'clock p. m., with his cousin, Johnny Figueroa, loaded two horses on the four-wheel or tandem trailer, hitched it to the truck and left for New Mexico. The trailer, loaded with two horses, weighed about 3600 pounds. Plaintiff drove the entire distance from Tucson to the place of the accident, a distance of about 250 miles. The accident occurred near Hatch, New Mexico, at about 5:00 a. m. the next morning.

The trailer was connected to the truck with a hitch consisting of three principal parts: (1) a bar assembly or 'hitch', welded to and a part of the rear of the towing truck; (2) a bolt, which fitted through a hole on the bar, was secured below it by a nut, and which carried at its top, as a part of it, a 2-inch 'ball'; which fitted into (3) a socket, which was part of the trailer. The ball was secured in the socket by a lever which was a part of the socket assembly, and once seated the ball could not be tightened in the socket as there was no adjustment on the socket.

Near Hatch, New Mexico, on a straight highway with only a slight grade, the plaintiff and his cousin suddenly felt a jerk or a pulling of the trailer. Plaintiff looked back and saw the trailer, which had been tracking behind the truck, veer off sideways at a sharp angle to the left. Plaintiff then applied the electric brakes to the trailer and they had become disconnected and did not work. At that time the trailer was not connected to the truck except by the safety

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chain. The trailer then 'jackknifed' back and forth and caused the truck to turn over.

Plaintiff was pinned in the wreckage, his spine fractured and his spinal cord completely severed.

[85 Ariz. 348] In addition to the ball and socket assembly the trailer was connected to the truck with one safety chain, located on the side of the trailer tongue. The purpose of the trailer chain was to hold the trailer to the truck ...

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