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SISK et al. v. CARNEY.
Complaint. Fulton Civil Court. Before Judge Bradford.
BELL, Chief Judge.
1. The motion to dismiss the appeal is denied.
2. (a) Testimony pertaining to telephone conversations between plaintiff, his wife, and defendant's agent was admissible to explain plaintiff's conduct.
(b) Declarations made to plaintiff by an agent of defendant in defendant's presence were admissible against defendant.
4. Plaintiff's evidence was insufficient to support the verdict that the property converted had a fair market value of $100.
5. Punitive damages are recoverable in a trover action.
Plaintiff sued the defendant for the conversion of a television set, praying for $100 general damages; $5,000 punitive damages; and attorney's fees. The jury returned a verdict for $100 general damages; $1,600 punitive damages; and $250 for attorney's fees.
At the trial plaintiff testified that he relinquished possession of his 1954 color television set to the defendant for repairs and that defendant advised him the cost of repair would be not more than $40. Thereafter, plaintiff and his wife had telephone conversations with a Jim Lingerfelt, identified at the trial by the defendant as the manager of his shop. In these conversations, both plaintiff and his wife testified they were informed by Lingerfelt that although an effort was made, the set could not be repaired and that payment of a $120 charge for the labor performed in the attempt to repair was necessary for return of the set. As a result of these conversations and upon Ills attorney's advice, plaintiff went to defendant's place of business where he made a demand upon Lingerfelt for his television set and tendered $40. Lingerfelt, according to plaintiff, demanded payment of the $120 charge and refused to give plaintiff the television or accept the $40.
Defendant testified that while an attempt was made to repair the set, he determined that it could not be repaired for $40 and was not economically repairable as it was over ten years old. He advised plaintiff's wife by phone of this determination. Shortly thereafter, he overheard a heated telephone conversation between plaintiff and Lingerfelt which immediately followed plaintiff's appearance at defendant's shop. On this occasion, according to defendant, plaintiff conversed with Lingerfelt and demanded that the television he repaired for $40. Lingerfelt stated that it could not be repaired for that price. Defendant then intervened at this point and advised plaintiff that he could have his property at no charge. Defendant also testified that he disclaimed any interest in plaintiff's property; denied he authorized anyone on his behalf to refuse the plaintiff possession of the television and that plaintiff could claim his property at any time.
Defendant moved for a nonsuit at the conclusion of plaintiff's case; moved to strike the portion of plaintiff's complaint demanding punitive damages; moved for a directed verdict at the close of all the evidence; moved for judgment n.o.v. and for a new trial. All of these motions were denied by the trial court.
1. The motion to dismiss the appeal is denied.
2. Defendant maintains that all the conversations between plaintiff, his wife and Jim Lingerfelt are inadmissible hearsay. With reference to the telephone conversations, the court admitted them as offered by plaintiff to explain the subsequent conduct of plaintiff, namely his visit to defendant's shop. As defendant identified Lingerfelt as his manager or agent and admitted in his own testimony that he overheard one conversation between plaintiff and Lingerfelt which he described as heated, this testimony is sufficient to establish authenticity. The conversations clearly explain the conduct of plaintiff and are admissible as original evidence and outside the he say rule. Code 38-302. Thruway Service City, Inc. v. Townsend, 116 Ga. App. 379 (157 SE2d 564). As regards the statements or declarations of Lingerfelt made to plaintiff, defendant admitted that he was present, overheard the conversation, and participated in it. Although there is a conflict as to the content of Lingerfelt's declarations, under these circumstances they are admissible as being within the rules found in Code 4-312, 38-305, 38-406, concerning the admissibility of an agent's declarations and our holding in Speir v. Westmoreland, 40 Ga. App. 302 (6) (149 SE 422).
App. 84, 86 (73 SE2d 55). Defendant, as a bailee, acquired lawful possession of plaintiff's television. However, plaintiff's evidence of his confrontation with defendant's manager is sufficient to authorize a finding of a demand upon defendant and a refusal to redeliver the property to plaintiff. The trial court did not err in overruling the motions of defendant dealing with the issue of conversion.
4. Plaintiff in his complaint pleaded that the television set had a fair market value of $100 and prayed for $100 general damages. We construe this part of plaintiff's pleading as an election by plaintiff to accept an alternative verdict for the value of the property. Code 107-105. In a suit based on conversion, the plaintiff must show, among other things, the value of the property. Buice v. Campbell, 99 Ga. App. 334 (3) (108 SE2d 339). The jury returned a verdict for $100 general damages. The only evidence that the property at issue had a value of $100 is found in plaintiff's testimony as to his opinion of the property value. Opinion evidence as to the value of an item, in order to have probative value, must be based upon a foundation that the witness has some knowledge, experience or familiarity with the value of the property in question or similar property and he must give reasons for the value assessed and also must have had an opportunity for forming a correct opinion. Code 38-1708, 38-1709; Hoard v. Wiley, 113 Ga. App. 328 (1a, b) (147 SE2d 782). Absent this foundation, the opinion as to value is inadmissable as it is nothing more than an "unsupported conclusion or guess of the witness." Id., p. 332. Plaintiff's testimony does not reveal sufficient experience or familiarity with the value of a 1954 color TV set or with similar property. He apparently based his conclusion on the cost price of $150 approximately two months prior to the incident which gives rise to this litigation. Mills v. Mangum, 111 Ga. App. 396 (3) (141 SE2d 773). Accordingly, plaintiff's evidence as to the make of the television is an inadmissible conclusion and will not support a verdict for $100. However, the evidence would support a finding that the set had some value. As a consequence the trial court did not err in overruling the motion for judgment n.o.v. but did err in denying defendant's motion for a new trial as to this issue.
5. There is another issue which we should determine. Defendant argues that punitive or exemplary damages are not allowed in a trover action. Code 105-2002 authorizes a jury in a tort action where there are aggravating circumstances to award additional or punitive damages. While the law on this issue is somewhat hazy, the decisions is Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Earl, 139 Ga. 456 (77 SE 638), Beaver v. Magid, 56 Ga. App. 272 (192 SE 497), and Oliver v. Fair Jewelers, Inc. of Atlanta, 104 Ga. App. 392 (121 SE2d 787), while all factually distinguishable, lend support to the proposition that punitive damages are allowable in a trover suit. Code 105-2002 applies to "every tort" and the gist of the action of trover is the tortious conversion of personal property. Tidwell v. Bush, 59 Ga. App. 471, 472 (1 SE2d 457). As our research reveals no Georgia authority which indicates a contrary conclusion, we hold that punitive damages are recoverable in a trover action. As a new trial will be had in this case, we make no ruling as to whether the present evidence authorizes an award of punitive damages.
6. Defendant contended in his motion for new trial that attorney's fees were not authorized. he has not argued this matter before us and it is deemed abandoned.
Judgment reversed. Quillian and Whitman, JJ., concur.
N. Forrest Montet, for appellee.
Louis D. Yancey, Jr., for appellants.
Friday May 22 17:08 EDT

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