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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
SLAPPY v. GEORGIA POWER COMPANY.
40650.
Action for damages. Calhoun Superior Court. Before Judge Crow.
BELL, Presiding Judge.
BELL, Presiding Judge.
The void order recalling the remittitur is vacated and is ordered stricken from the minutes of this court. Jordan and Eberhardt, JJ., concur.
Where a petition in a death action affirmatively alleges that the plaintiff's deceased son recognized danger to travelers on a public highway created by the defendant's negligence, and when reasonable men might disagree as to whether the deceased by his alleged conduct, as judged by the standard of conduct of a reasonable man in like circumstances, exposed himself to a foreseeable unreasonable risk of harm, the petition is not subject to general demurrer.
The petition in this case, in three counts, seeks to assert an action for the death of the plaintiff's minor son caused by accidental contact with an electrical transmission wire of the defendant which, allegedly due to the defendant's negligence, was broken and suspended over the highway in the path of automobile traffic. The petition, varying in each count in allegations of negligence, asserts that: the decedent was driving along the highway and observed the wire sagging over the highway in the path of traffic; he pulled past the wire and stopped; he recognized that the wire in that position was dangerous to travelers; he got out of his automobile, leaving the motor running and the lights on, to wave down and stop other travelers on the highway to prevent their being endangered by the wire; he stopped one car and immediately another one approached from the opposite direction; he started toward the side of the highway and began waving his arms in order to stop the approaching vehicle; the night was dark, the wire was dark, it was raining and the lights of the oncoming car were very bright, and while undertaking under the circumstances to wave the car to a stop, the wire, as a result either of being struck by the car or of movement by the wind, (for want of sufficient information the plaintiff could not say which), was either knocked or swayed into the body of the decedent, striking him in the chest as he stood in the act of waving down the approaching automobile. The electrical shock received from the wire caused the decedent's death.
The general demurrer of the defendant was sustained and the petition dismissed. It is to the judgment dismissing the petition that exceptions are brought.
Counsel for the defendant in error in their briefs do not insist that the petition fails to allege an issue of negligence. Rather, the thrust of their argument is that the petition affirmatively shows that the plaintiff is not entitled to recover because the death of her minor son was caused solely by the deceased's failure to exercise ordinary care for his own safety in voluntarily encountering a known and obvious danger, or by the decedent's failure to exercise ordinary care to avoid the consequences of the defendant's alleged negligence.
The issue we are called upon to decide as a matter of law is whether the decedents' conduct as alleged in the petition conformed to the legally prescribed standard of ordinary care, i.e., the conduct of a reasonable man under like circumstances. Central R. & Bkg. Co. v. Ryles, 84 Ga. 420 (1), 430 (11 SE 499). American Law Institute, Restatement, Torts, 283 (Supp. 1948).
The petition asserts that the decedent recognized that the sagging wire created a danger to travelers on the highway. This knowledge, however, does not serve necessarily to make decedent's conduct negligent. It is one thing, to say that he knew of the danger to travelers in automobiles and something quite different to say that he knew of the danger and assumed the risk incident to his leaving his automobile and walking on the highway to the place where he was killed. The decedent's knowledge of danger to others was alleged. Knowledge of danger to himself was not. It would be most erroneous to impute knowledge of danger to himself from the allegation of his knowledge of danger to others. The affirmative allegation of knowledge is only a factor to be considered by the jury in determining whether the decedent was negligent and assumed the risk. Underwood v. Atlanta &c. R. Co., 105 Ga. App. 340, 358 (7) (124 SE2d 758).
The petition alleges that the decedent, after driving past the wire himself but recognizing the danger it created for other highway travelers, got out of his automobile and tried to stop other drivers. It alleges that a force not originated by the decedent caused the fatal wire to move and strike him. The petition is not susceptible to the inference that the wind was blowing the wire before the decedent moved to the place where it contacted him, or that the wire was in a position where an approaching car would necessarily cause it to be moved toward him. Neither does the petition show that the decedent walked so close to the wire that he must necessarily have foreseen that he would in some way come in contact with it.
All counsel in their briefs dwell at length on the legal principle that "danger invites rescue." Under the allegations of the petition here, this aspect of negligence law enters into the problem only with regard to the jury question as to whether any normally foreseeable risk found to be taken by the decedent was reasonable under the circumstances. Restatement, Torts, 472. If the decedent reasonably apprehended danger to others and if to warn or rescue them he did expose himself to some risk, was the risk the decedent took reasonable in view of the reasonably anticipated injury to others that he tried to prevent? In other words, "Does the stimulus of the negligence under the circumstances call for the effort to rescue as a normal reaction to the situation, which cannot be said to be rash and reckless?" Rushton v. Howle, 79 Ga. App. 360 (53 SE2d 768). "In cases where one's negligence causes injury or danger to another the negligence which causes the injury or, danger is negligence as to the rescuer, and efforts to rescue will not be considered negligent if they are not rash or wanton. Whether the rescuer acts rashly or wantonly, except in plain and indisputable cases, is a question for the jury." Blanchard v. Reliable Transfer Co., 71 Ga. App. 843, 845 (32 SE2d 420); see also Fuller Const. Co. v. Elliott, 92 Ga. App. 309, 316 (88 SE2d 413); Wilson v. Central of Ga. R. Co., 132 Ga. 215 (63 SE 1121); Usry v. Small, 103 Ga. App. 144 (118 SE2d 719).
Since the petition is not subject to the inference that the danger to the decedent from the wire at the place where he walked was known and obvious to him, the cases cited by counsel for the defendant which denied recovery to one who deliberately went into a place of danger known and obvious to him, or a danger concealed by darkness, are not in point and do not control this case. See Read v. City &c. R. Co., 115 Ga. 366 (41 SE 629); Columbus R. Co. v. Dorsey, 119 Ga. 363 (46 SE 635); Central of Ga. R. Co. v. Roberts, 213 Ga. 135 (197 SE2d 149); Little v. Rome R. &c. Co., 35 Ga. App. 482 (133 SE 643); Dacus v. Dickenson Trust Co., 65 Ga. App. 872 (16 SE2d 786); Bryant v. Pittman, 101 Ga. App. 842 (115 SE2d 418). Neither are those cases cited applicable to the present petition which have held that a person who deliberately touched or attempted to move a known dangerous electrical wire cannot recover. See Taylor v. Morgan, 54 Ga. App. 426 (188 SE 44); Laseter v. Clark, 54 Ga. App. 669 (189 SE 265); Carroll Electric Membership Corp. v. Simpson, 106 Ga. App. 29 (126 SE2d 310).
If an inference is to be drawn from this petition, it must be that the decedent intended to avoid touching the wire. "The culpability of the actor's conduct must be judged in the light of the possibilities apparent to him at the time, and not by looking backward 'with the wisdom born of the event'. The standard must be one of conduct, rather than of consequences. It is not enough that everyone can see now that the risk was great, if it was not apparent when the conduct occurred." Prosser, Torts (2d Ed. 1955) 30, p. 121.
The trial court erred in sustaining the defendant's general demurrer and dismissing the petition.
On various motion of opposing counsel.
After publication to the parties of the opinion and judgment of the court, the defendant in error filed its motion for rehearing. This motion was denied on June 19, 1964. Notice of the denial was dispatched by the clerk to counsel for the parties. On July 1, 1964, the clerk of this court transmitted the remittitur to the clerk of the trial court as authorized by Rule 44, 100 Ga. App. 875. No further action was taken until July 13, 1964, when one of counsel for the defendant in error filed with the clerk a sworn motion seeking recall of the remittitur containing the judgment of this court which had previously been forwarded to the clerk of the superior court. This motion was indicated because counsel had not complied with the requirement of notice to be given within ten days to the clerk of this court of their intention to apply for the writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court nor of ordering a certified copy of so much of the record as might be desired. See Rule 45, 100 Ga. App. 875 and Rule 44, 214 Ga. 876.
Notwithstanding its opinion adverse to the movant on the merits of the motion, the court did not wish to deny to the party a possible review by the Supreme Court of its own opinion and judgment entered in the cause. The court reasoned that doubt as to compliance with Supreme Court rules regarding certiorari alone was involved and that these doubts, in keeping with decorum, should be left to the Supreme Court for resolving. We felt that Rule 44 of that court, 214 Ga. 876, should be left to it to enforce or not as it saw fit. Acting on this logical conclusion, the court entered an order recalling the remittitur as having been "inadvertently" issued. The court did not vacate its judgment denying the motion for rehearing of the defendant in error, but merely sought by its order to leave things in the status quo so as not to impede the Supreme Court in its ultimate consideration of the petition for certiorari.
Counsel for the plaintiff in error have now filed a motion seeking our reconsideration of the order recalling our remittitur on the ground that it was void and beyond our jurisdiction. This has caused us to further research the issue and to conclude from binding precedents thus discovered, that we have indeed erred in issuing the order.
"The motion . . . was received after the judgment of this court had been pronounced and entered upon its minutes, and the remittitur had been issued and transmitted to the trial court and there received. In these circumstances this court lost jurisdiction of the case, and can not make any further order having the effect to alter or change the judgment pronounced. The rule would be different where the remittitur had been transmitted as the result of mistake, irregularity, inadvertence, fraud, or the like." (Emphasis added.) Byrd v. Clark, 170 Ga. 912 (154 SE 881); Hayes v. State, 91 Ga. 43 (16 SE 270); Knox v. State, 113 Ga. 929 (39 SE 330); Seaboard Air Line R. v. Jones, 19 Ga. 907 (47 SE 320); Curry v. Construction & General Laborers Union Local No. 438, AFL-CIO, 219 Ga. 38 (131 SE2d 559).
Previously to the discovery of these precedents the court was under the erroneous impression that it retained jurisdiction of the case until its judgment was formally entered as the judgment of the trial court. But from those authorities it is clear that our jurisdiction was divested when our remittitur had been issued, transmitted to the trial court, and there received.
The motion of the defendant in error having affirmatively disclosed that the remittitur of this court had been returned to the lower court, we must declare our order recalling it null and void and of no effect for lack of jurisdiction. The void order must be vacated and ordered stricken from the minutes of this court.
We feel impelled to rectify one other error. The order declared void recited that it was "inadvertently" transmitted to the trial court. The choice of the word "inadvertently" was ill-considered. There was no inadvertence in the transmittal of the remittitur either by the court or the clerk. The transmittal was occasioned simply by the full compliance with Rule 44 of this court. See 108 Ga. App. 875.
Robert D. Tisinger, amicus curiae.
Frank Twitty, Willis Duvall, Burt & Burt, contra.
Jesse G. Bowls, Perry, Walters & Langstaff, H. H. Perry, Jr., for plaintiff in error.
DECIDED JUNE 1, 1964 -- REHEARING DENIED JUNE 19, 1964.
Friday May 22 21:53 EDT


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