[47 Del. 344] Suit for personal injuries resulting from alleged negligence. The matter is before the Court on plaintiff's motion to strike certain defenses or, in the alternative, for summary judgment as to the issues raised by those defenses. The named defendant has also moved for summary judgment.
The complaint charges that the plaintiff was a passenger on a bus of Delaware Coach Company (called Delaware Coach) driven by Frederick Moore at a time when it collided with a train of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company (called B. & O.), and that he was injured through the negligence of all three defendants. The original answer of B. & O. denied negligence on its part. It later filed a supplemental answer setting forth two additional defenses based upon a release executed by the plaintiff. One defense is that this paper releases B. & O. as well as the other two defendants. The other defense avers payment by Delaware Coach and Moore to the plaintiff of the sum of $20,000, the consideration recited in the release. Attached to the supplemental answer is a copy of the release, which is as follows:
'Whereas, on or about the Twenty-third day of June, 1950, Thomas L. Raughley was a passenger in a gasoline bus owned by Delaware Coach Company, a corporation of the State of Delaware, and operated by its employee, Frederick Moore, on a regularly scheduled run on the Newport-Gap Turnpike near the community known as Belvidere in Christiana Hundred, New Castle County, and State of Delaware, at a time when said gasoline bus had an accident with and collided with the locomotive of freight train No.
4482 owned by The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, a [47 Del. 345] corporation of the State of Maryland, and operated by its employee, William B. Willard, whereby the said Thomas L. Raughley suffered various temporary and permanent bodily injuries as well as damages to his personal property and was compelled to expend large sums of money for his medical care; and
'Whereas, the said Thomas L. Raughley brought suit in the Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County against Delaware Coach Company, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company and Frederick Moore, which suit is No. 319 Civil Action 1951; and
'Whereas, the said Thomas L. Raughley and the Said Delaware Coach Company and Frederick Moore have reached a settlement of all claims and demands which the said Thomas L. Raughley has by reason of said accident against the Delaware Coach Company and/or Frederick Moore, including all claims and demands which have been or might have been asserted in said action, being No. 319 Civil Action 1951, as a term of which settlement the said Thomas L. Raughley has agreed to dismiss with prejudice said action in so far as it applies to Delaware Coach Company and/or Frederick Moore;
'Now therefore, know all men by these presents, that I, Thomas L. Raughley, in consideration of the payment to me of the sum of Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000), lawful money of the United States of America, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, have remised, released and forever quitclaimed and discharged the said Delaware Coach Company, a corporation of the State of Delaware, and the said Frederick Moore, and each of them, their and each of their respective heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns, of and from all actions, causes of action, claims and demands for, upon or by reason of any loss, damage, injury or expense which heretofore has been or hereafter may be sustained by me or by my heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, for or by reason of any matter, cause or [47 Del. 346] thing whatsoever from the beginning of the world to the date of these presents and particularly of and from all claims and demands arising out of or in any way connected with the loss, injuries and damages sustained by me in said accident on the Twenty-third day of June, 1950.
'It is understood and agreed that this Release shall reduce, to the extent of the pro rata share or Delaware Coach Company and Frederick Moore, any damages recoverable by me against The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company or against any other person, firm or corporation by reason of said accident on June 23, 1950; and to this end, in further consideration of the aforesaid payment to me I do hereby release and forever quitclaim and discharge the said The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company and all other persons, firms and corporations whatsoever and each of them, their and each of their respective heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns, of and from all actions, causes of action, claims and demands for, upon or by reason of the pro rata share caused by or attributable to the said Delaware Coach Company and/or Frederick Moore of any loss, damage, injury or expense suffered by me in connection with said accident on June 23, 1950.
'It is understood and agreed that the said payment is made in full settlement and satisfaction of any and all claims arising from the injuries and damages sustained by me as hereinabove set forth and shall not be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the said Delaware Coach Company or on the part of the said Frederick Moore.
'In witness whereof, I, the said Thomas L. Raughley, have hereunto set my hand and seal this 18th day of December, 1951.
'Sealed and delivered in the presence of John M. Bader
Thomas L. Raughley (Seal)'
[47 Del. 344] John M. Bader, of Wilmington, for plaintiff.
William Pickett, of Wilmington, for defendant, the Baltimore & Ohio R. Co.
[47 Del. 347] CAREY, Judge.
The present dispute involves the Uniform Contribution among Tortfeasors Act, adopted in Delaware in 1949 as Chapter 151 Volume 47, Laws of Delaware 259. This act changed the common law by creating a right of contribution among joint tortfeasors. DiStefano v. Lamborn, Del.Super., 81 A.2d 675 Sections 4 and 5 deal with the subject of releases in the following words:
'Section 4. Release; Effect on Injured Person's Claim:--A release by the injured person of one joint tortfeasor, whether before or after judgment, does not discharge the other tortfeasor unless the release so provides; but reduces the claim against the other tortfeasors in the amount * * * or proportion by which the release provides that the total claim shall be reduced, if greater than the consideration paid.
'Section 5. Release; Effect On Right Of Contribution:--A release by the injured person of one joint tortfeasor does not relieve him from liability to make contribution to another joint tortfeasor unless the release is given before the right of the other tortfeasor to secure a money judgment for contribution has accrued, and provides for a reduction, to the extent of the pro rata share of the released tortfeasor, of the injured person's damages recoverable against all the other tortfeasors.'
The defendant's first contention is this: a cause of action in tort is indivisible at common law, citing Ierardi v. Farmers Trust Co., 4 W.W.Harr. 246, 151 A. 822; it was impossible at common law to release a tortfeasor from part of a cause of action because this would have amounted to splitting the cause of action, citing Smith v. Red Top Taxi Corp., 111 N.J.L. 439, 168 A. 796; the Uniform Act does not change the common law in this respect; paragraph 5 of the Code instrument releases B. & O. from all claims, but attempts to limit it to the pro rata share attributable to Delaware Coach or Moore; the attempted limitation[47 Del. 348] is void, since the cause of action is indivisible; paragraph 5 therefore releases B. & O. entirely.
Defendant's second contention is that paragraph 6 of the instrument is an acknowledgment of full payment and satisfaction of plaintiff's damages, and since he cannot be paid twice for the same claim, he has no right to proceed further against B. & O. even though B. & O. paid nothing upon the settlement.
Certain other contentions of defendant, also based upon arguments of indivisibility of cause of action and acknowledgement of full satisfaction, need not be specifically mentioned; it is believed that they are fully answered by what is said herein.
In reply, plaintiff argues that the Uniform Act permits divisibility to a limited degree by providing for a release of one tortfeasor without entirely discharging another. He denies that the release, when read as a whole, discharges B. & O. beyond the extent mentioned therein or that it acknowledges full satisfaction of his damages.
In Balick v. Philadelphia Dairy Co., 5 W.W.Harr. 269, 162 A. 776, an instrument construed to be a covenant not to sue rather than a release, was held not to discharge a defendant not named therein. It was conceded that a release would have had that effect. The instrument was admitted into evidence, however, for it served to reduce the amount of damages recoverable from the remaining defendant. Under the express language of Section 4 of the Uniform Act, a similar result may now be accomplished through the use of a release. Its effect upon the injured person's claim against the remaining defendant is to reduce it in an amount at least as great as the consideration paid for the release, and even greater than that figure if it so provides. In this manner, it bars the plaintiff from obtaining a double recovery. Section 5, however, protects and preserves the right of that remaining defendant to collect contribution from the one released, unless the release provides for a reduction, to the
The instrument now before the Court, must, of course, be read as a whole and the intent of the parties gathered from the entire agreement and not from detached portions. 17 C.J.S., Contracts, § 297, p. 707. Viewed in this light, it seems clear that its purpose and intent is to accomplish the very objects permitted by the statute and at the same time to stay within the restrictions imposed by the statute. Paragraph 5, when read in the light of the rest of the agreement, was obviously intended to reduce the amount recoverable from B. & O. to the extent of the pro rata share of Delaware Coach and Moore, in order to eliminate any possibility that the latter two might ultimately be forced to pay a further sum to B. & O. This is exactly what is contemplated by Section 5 of the Act. Under this interpretation of the agreement, the question, argued at some length, as to whether the statute now permits a division of a cause of action for some purposes becomes purely academic in this case.
By the same token, the agreement as a whole negatives the idea that the amount paid to plaintiff constitutes full settlement and satisfaction of his damages. Standing alone, paragraph 6 might well be so interpreted but that paragraph must be read in the light of all other parts of the instrument.
For these reasons, it is my conclusion that the release neither completely discharges B. & O. (except in the eventuality hereafter mentioned) nor acknowledges full satisfaction of the damages. Defendant's motion for summary judgment must be denied. This conclusion has been reached from a ...