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Disabatino & Raniere, Inc. v. Gilmore

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle County

July 25, 1951


Disabatino & Raniere, Inc., a corporation of the State of Delaware, and another, brought action against Joseph Robert Gilmore, for damages arising out of automobile intersectional collision. The defendant filed a counterclaim. Verdict was returned against plaintiffs and against defendant on his counterclaim, and defendant moved for new trial because of refusal of the court to submit charge based upon last clear chance doctrine. The Superior Court, Carey, J., held that evidence as to interval of time between defendant's reaching a place of danger and plaintiff's ability to observe and avoid collision was insufficient to warrant submission of last clear chance doctrine.

Motion for new trial denied.

[46 Del. 324] Motion for new trial in an action for damages arising out of an automobile accident which occurred in Wilmington at the intersection of Thirtieth and Van Buren Streets. The plaintiff Raniere was driving the corporate plaintiff's car in its business [46 Del. 325] northerly on Van Buren Street, which is a two-way ‘ through’ street more than 34 feet wide. The defendant was driving his own car westerly on Thirtieth Street, which is a one-way street. By virtue of

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certain municipal regulations, traffic on Thirtieth Street approaching Van Buren is controlled by a ‘ slow’ sign and drivers are required to slow down to ten miles per hour and to yield the right of way to vehicles approaching so closely on Van Buren as to constitute an immediate hazzard. Because of a house which faces Van Buren Street, neither driver could see more than about 62 feet down the intersecting street. The testimony indicated that the impact between the two cars took place 10 feet 11 inches west of the east curb line of Van Buren Street and 12 feet 9 inches north of the south curb line of Thirtieth Street. The jury returned a verdict against plaintiffs on their claims and against defendant on his counterclaim.

The plaintiffs and the defendant submitted prayers for a charge based upon the ‘ last clear chance’ doctrine. Those prayers were denied and defendant has asked for a new trial because of that refusal.

Additional facts appear in the Court's opinion.

Clement C. Wood, of Wilmington, for plaintiffs.

William Prickett, of Wilmington, for defendant.

CAREY, Judge.

The sole question for decision is whether, under the facts of this case, defendant was entitled to have the jury determine whether or not Raniere had a last clear chance to avoid the accident. At the time of trial, I thought not, and I am still of the same opinion.

The jury's verdict necessarily constituted a finding either that neither driver was negligent or that both of them were negligent. If neither was negligent, the theory of last clear chance has no application. If both were negligent, the doctrine could be invoked by Gilmore only if the negligences were not concurrent, or mutual, but Raniere's succeeded Gilmore's by an appreciable interval of time so as to isolate the latter's negligence [46 Del. 326] and render it inoperative as an efficient legal cause of the damage. Island Express v. Frederick, 5 W. W. Harr. 569, 171 A. 181.

The testimony concerning the speed and other actions of both drivers was in sharp conflict. One possible version is relied upon by defendant as the basis for his present contention. His counsel assumes negligence on his part in entering Van Buren Street in violation of the City regulations and reasons that he was in a position of peril from which he could not extricate himself, but that Raniere could have avoided the collision. According to his own testimony, at the moment he arrived at the east curb line of Van Buren Street, he saw Raniere for the first time about 62 feet south of the intersection. Gilmore further said that, on entering the intersection, he was going 8 or 10 miles per hour, was decreasing his speed, and had practically stopped at the instant of the collision. Raniere denied seeing Gilmore before the impact. He said that, on passing the last dwelling house on Van Buren Street, he looked first to his right, then to his left, and then ahead just as he was struck. He stated that he was going from 20 to 25 miles per hour. From the point where he first could have possibly seen Gilmore to the point of impact is a distance of about 75 feet. In other words, under this theory of the sequence of events, he travelled about 75 feet while Gilmore was going about 11 feet. It is clear, therefore, that Raniere had at most somewhat over two seconds in which to observe and appreciate the danger and to take appropriate action to avoid the collision. That estimate of time is based upon the assumption that he was travelling no faster than 20 to 25 miles per hour. In point of fact, the undisputed movements of the cars, as well as their physical condition, after the impact strongly tend to show that the speed of one or both drivers was considerably faster than their respective testimony indicates.

The doctrine of last clear chance cannot be applied unless one driver has a clear opportunity to avoid the accident. It has been said that it should be applied only in ...

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