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STRIPLING v. CALHOUN, by Next Friend.
Action for damages. Worth Superior Court. Before Judge Gray. July 18, 1958.
1. Where a charge by the court on the doctrine of acts in sudden emergencies is unauthorized by the evidence, and even though it may not be complete in itself, such error is harmless to the defendant where, if properly understood, it gave him the advantage of an additional defense and, if misunderstood, it still placed no additional burden upon him.
2. The general grounds of the motion for new trial, not being argued or insisted upon, are treated as abandoned.
3. The motion to assess damages against the plaintiff in error is denied.
Sandra Calhoun by next friend filed an action for damages in the Superior Court of Worth County against A. M. Stripling. The plaintiff, a little girl 7 years of age, attended a consolidated school, along the yard of which there was an unpaved driveway winding between the buildings and shrubbery. The defendant in his truck brought his own daughter to the school and while on this roadway struck the plaintiff, inflicting serious injuries. The petition alleges that when the plaintiff was hit "she was on the playground in open view of the defendant where she was required to be awaiting the opening of school; that she was exercising all diligence required of her and in no way contributed to her injury." The pertinent acts of negligence alleged against the defendant are: failing to exercise ordinary care to avoid striking the child, failing to keep a lookout ahead, failing to anticipate the plaintiff's presence on the playground, and failing to warn her when the defendant discovered her in front of his truck or in the exercise of ordinary care should have done so. The answer alleges that the defendant was proceeding very slowly and carefully along the roadway after leaving his own daughter at the school; that the plaintiff appeared suddenly from behind an obstruction and ran immediately in front of the truck and that the injuries received were due to an unfortunate accident, the defendant being guilty of no negligence. On the trial it appears almost without dispute that the defendant was in fact moving forward in the truck at about 6 to 8 miles per hour; that he waved to one of the teachers, and that just at that moment the child came out from behind some shrubbery and parked cars about 20 feet from the point of impact and was knocked down; that neither the plaintiff nor the defendant ever saw or realized the presence of the other until after the impact. Following an adverse verdict the defendant filed his motion for new trial on the general grounds which was amended by the addition of 3 special grounds, and the denial of this motion is assigned as error.
1. The 3 special grounds are directed to the charge of the court on the doctrine of emergency as follows: "I charge you, gentlemen of the jury, that the driver of an automobile when confronted with a sudden peril, which peril did not arise from any fault of his own, should then use such care as an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the circumstances. If, however, the driver of an automobile or truck, as in this case, was the cause of the emergency, then, and in that event, this principle of law which I have just given you, does not apply. In all instances, however, the driver must use care as an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the circumstances." The complaints are that neither the pleadings nor the evidence authorized a charge on the doctrine of emergency; that it constituted an opinion of the trial court on the facts of the case, and that the court, having undertaken to charge on the subject, did not do so fully and fairly.
The purpose of judicial instructions on the law relating to sudden peril are generally (a) to excuse an act of the plaintiff which would otherwise be negligence on the plaintiff's part diminishing or precluding recovery, or (b) to excuse an act of the defendant which would otherwise constitute negligence as to the plaintiff. In this case this instruction was directed only to the defendant. In Blashfield, Cyclopedia of Automobile Law and Practice, Vol. I, 667, 668, it is stated: "Conduct which would otherwise be negligence cannot be excused on the ground that the actor made a mistake of judgment, unless the judgment exercised was that which an ordinarily careful and prudent man would have exercised under the same circumstances, and a motorist cannot excuse himself from liability for injuries resulting from a collision on the ground that he made an error of judgment or miscalculated distance, there being no emergency to hurry his decision. When one is confronted with a sudden peril requiring instinctive action, he is not, in determining his course of action, held to the exercise of the same degree of care as when he has time for reflection . . . provided . . . he exercises such care as a reasonably prudent and capable driver would use under the unusual circumstances." The so-called "doctrine of emergency" thus refers only to those acts, either of the plaintiff or the defendant, which occur immediately following the realization of the peril or crisis and before there is time for mature reflection. In the case at bar the position of the defendant is well taken that there were no such acts, and therefore no such issue, in the case; this for the reason that the injury to the little plaintiff had occurred before either she or the defendant ever recognized the existence of the peril. It was this error to give the subject in charge, but the error was only harmful if it in some way prejudiced the rights of the complaining party who happens to be the defendant. See New Winder Lumber Co. v. Payne, 40 Ga. App. 188 (8) (149 S. E. 85). One cannot complain of a charge which gives him a defense to which he is not entitled under the law. Fields v. State, 211 Ga. 338 (4) (85 S. E. 2d 753). This instruction was therefore harmless as to the movant. It is almost identical with the words used in 38 Am. Jur. 687, Negligence, 41, as follows: "One who, through no fault of his own, is confronted with a sudden peril and does things which afterward may seem to have been improper or foolish is not negligent if he does what a prudent man would or might do under the circumstances." Movant contends that such an instruction is error because the trial court should have spelled out the distinction by further charging in substance: "If you find from the evidence that a sudden emergency was created, then the defendant would not be held to the same accuracy of judgment as where there is time for deliberation and this is a circumstance that may be taken into consideration in determining whether ordinary care has been exercised." It is unnecessary to consider whether, in a proper case the charge as made would have given the defendant the full benefit of the
"sudden peril" doctrine for the reason that here he was not entitled to such benefit in the first place, and in the second place what was charged did not in any way prejudice his defense. If the jury did in fact misunderstand the charge so as to believe that in this situation, as well as generally, the defendant's conduct was to be judged by that of the hypothetical ordinarily prudent person without regard to any existent emergency, then the defendant got no more and no less than he was entitled to because such would be the measure to determine his negligence without the emergency theory being injected into the case, as the defendant himself correctly contends it should not have been. If the jury understood the charge as it was intended, that is, that ordinary care in an emergency is measured by the standard of lesser accountability of the same ordinarily prudent person reacting to the same emergency, then he received the full benefit of the doctrine and more than he was in fact entitled to.
2. The general grounds of the motion for new trial, not being argued or insisted upon, are treated as abandoned.
3. The defendant in error contends that this case was brought to this court for delay only, and moves that he be awarded 10% damages allowed in such cases by Code 6-1801. Even slight grounds for bringing the case up will prevent the award of damages for frivolous exception. Waxelbaum & Co. v. Limberger, 78 Ga. 43 (5). While the assignments of error here are insufficient to bring about a reversal, yet counsel for the losing party had an absolute right to test the legality of the judgment, and the very fact that a part of the charge on which error is assigned is shown by the opinion to have been inexact and perhaps even error, though harmless, afforded reasonable ground for testing the judgment. Counsel for the plaintiff in error was both astute and diligent, and accordingly the motion to assess a penalty is denied.
The trial court did not err in denying the motion for new trial.
Judgment affirmed. Gardner, P. J., and Carlisle, J., concur.
Lippitt & Lippitt, W. J. Crowe, R. B. Williamson, contra.
Ford & Houston, P. B. Ford, Wright & Reddick, George P. Wright, for plaintiff in error.
Saturday May 23 01:29 EDT

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