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Sisk v. Ball

Supreme Court of Arizona

May 16, 1962

Joel Ann SISK, a minor, by her guardian ad litem, Claude N. Sisk, and Claude N. Sisk, individually, Appellants,
v.
James N. BALL and Elnore Ball, husband and wife, Appellees.

[91 Ariz. 240] Norman Herring, Sedona, and Stauffer & Stauffer, Tucson, for appellants.

Chandler, Tullar, Udall & Richmond, Tucson, for appellees.

BERNSTEIN, Chief Justice.

Appellant (hereinafter called plaintiff) appeals from an adverse judgment rendered upon a jury verdict in an action against the appellee (defendant) for personal injuries. In November, 1955, plaintiff, then a girl of 15 years of age, was struck by defendant's car while crossing Oracle Road in Tucson. At the close of the trial, wherein the issues of negligence of the defendant, contributory negligence of the plaintiff, and 'last clear chance' by the defendant were raised, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant and against the plaintiff on her complaint.

Plaintiff sets forth 16 assignments of error, alleging that the testimony upon which the verdict was based is contrary to physical facts; that the court erred in giving certain instructions and refusing to give others; that the court influenced

Page 595

the jury by unduly emphasizing the defendant's case while giving the instructions to the jury by repeatedly using the phrase 'you must return a verdict for the defendant;'[91 Ariz. 241] and that the verdict was influenced by misconduct of defendant's counsel during his argument of the case. We will consider the assignments in this order.

Plaintiff argues that the verdict cannot be sustained because defendant's evidence on the issue of 'last clear chance' is incredible and contrary to physical facts. The evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the defendant, who prevailed below, showed that the plaintiff and a 17 year old companion saw the car of the defendant and another car approaching from the north as they started to cross from east to west across the east half of Oracle road. After covering a distance of approximately 40 feet the girls paused briefly on the cross-hatched center strip of the road then the plaintiff started running across the west half of the road without again looking to the north. The plaintiff's companion remained on the center strip. The plaintiff ran a distance of approximately 35 feet before the defendant's car struck her.

The defendant's testimony that he saw the girls leave the east side of the road when he was approximately 200 feet north of them appears to be improbable in view of his admitted speed of 35 to 45 miles per hour, and the relative distance that would have to be traversed on foot by the plaintiff to reach the point of impact. However, from the testimony of the defendant and that of Mr. Turner, whose car was in the southbound lane nearest the center strip and about one car's length behind the defendant's, together with the physical evidence of tire marks beginning 70 feet from the point of impact, the jury could have found that the defendant first observed the plaintiff run from her position of safety on the center strip when he was about 70 feet (or a little farther, allowing for his reaction time) from the point of impact. It does not appear incredible that the plaintiff could have covered the 35 feet from the center strip to the point of impact while the defendant, in a car with the brakes applied and coming to a stop covered somewhat more than 70 feet. We therefore reject plaintiff's assignments of error dealing with this point.

We have not considered the plaintiff's assignment of error concerning the instruction on contributory negligence. For reasons discussed hereafter, the case must be retried, and this point with be controlled by the principles set out in Layton v. Rocha, 90 Ariz. 369, 368 P.2d 444 (1962).

It is next contended that the court below erred in refusing plaintiff's offered instructions dealing with the right of the plaintiff to assume that defendant would obey the law; with the defendant's duty of care when approaching pedestrians; and with the standard of conduct by which plaintiff's actions were to be judged. Viewing the instructions as a whole, Musgrave v. Githens, 80 Ariz. 188, 294 P.2d 674, we [91 Ariz. 242] think the general instructions given covered those points listed above upon which the plaintiff was entitled to instructions, and correctly stated the law. We likewise feel, considering the instructions as a whole, that the jury was adequately instructed that the defendant had the burden of proving his defense of contributory negligence.

Part of plaintiff's theory of the case was that the defendant was negligent because he swerved out of his lane of travel in violation of § 28-729 A.R.S. [1] Violation of a statute enacted for the public safety is negligence per se, Anderson v. Morgan, 73 Ariz. 344, 241 P.2d 786 (1952), and when this theory is supported by the evidence, the

Page 596

plaintiff is entitled to have a properly worded instruction on this issue read to the jury. Of course, a violation of the statutory duty must be also a proximate cause of the injury to constitute actionable negligence, Caldwell v. Tremper, 90 Ariz. 241, 367 P.2d 266 (1961).

The plaintiff next argues that the court, in instructing the jury, gave undue emphasis to the defendant's case by repeatedly ending instructions with the phrase 'your verdict must be in favor of the defendant's or its equivalent, while only in connection when the instruction on last clear chance was the jury told that, if they found the facts to be in accordance with the instruction, they must find for the plaintiff. The plaintiff had submitted other instructions which would have bound the jury to return a verdict for the plaintiff, but the court properly modified these by striking the binding phrase and substituting the words 'then the defendant was actionbly negligent' since these instructions did not require every finding necessary for the plaintiff to prevail. Reid's Branson, Instructions to Juries § 126 (1960); Pickwick Stages Corp. v. Messinger, 44 Ariz. 174, 36 P.2d 168 (1934). Thus, in their unaltered form the instructions would have improperly bound the jury to return a verdict for the plaintiff if they found only that the defendant was negligent, without permitting them to consider the defense of contributory negligence. While undue emphasis on returning a verdict for one party is objectionable, Bean v. Gorby, 80 Ariz. 25, 292 P.2d 199 (1956), it does not appear that plaintiff objected to such emphasis when the instructions were read. Moreover, on the retrial of the case plaintiff will have the opportunity to recast her instructions in [91 Ariz. 243] terms which will balance the emphasis on each side.

During the course of his closing argument to the jury defendant's counsel, plaintiff's counsel and the court ...


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