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Baker v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles

Decided: May 1, 1962.


Appeal from the Superior Court of Baltimore City; Harlan, J.

Brune, C. J., and Henderson, Hammond, Prescott and Marbury, JJ. Brune, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court.


The plaintiff-appellant, Baker, brought suit under the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund Law (Code (1957), Art. 66 1/2, ยงยง 150-179) against the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to recover damages for injuries sustained in a hit-and-run motor vehicle accident, in which the driver of the hit-and-run car was unknown. The appeal is from a judgment for the defendant entered upon the jury's verdict after the plaintiff's motion for judgment n.o.v. had been denied.

Four witnesses testified with regard to the accident -- the plaintiff, his two companions and a police officer who arrived at the scene and investigated the accident a few minutes after it occurred. One of the plaintiff's companions, Harris, was the owner and driver of the car in which the plaintiff had been a passenger. His other companion was one Coleman, also a passenger in Harris' car. The police officer obtained a signed statement from Harris at the scene of the accident and obtained one from the plaintiff, Baker, somewhat later at the hospital to which Baker had been removed. The officer's reports noted alcohol on the breath of each of them, but he stated that Harris otherwise appeared normal. No statement was made by Coleman to the officer; in fact, the officer was not informed that Coleman had been in the car. The testimony of Harris and of Baker at the trial differed in certain respects, which will be mentioned below, from their statements as recorded by the investigating officer.

The accident happened at the intersection of Bond and Preston Streets in Baltimore at about 11:45 P.M. on a rainy Saturday late in August, 1959. Harris had been driving west on Preston Street intending either (as he said at the trial) to take Coleman to his home which was on the south side of Preston Street in the block just east of Bond Street or (as he reportedly said in his statement) to turn south on Bond Street to take Baker home. At the time Baker and Harris lived at the same place. Harris both passed Coleman's house and drove

across Bond Street without turning off Preston Street. Realizing that he had made a mistake, he stopped on Preston Street just west of Bond and then backed his car into Bond Street.

Harris said at the trial that he completed this maneuver with his car headed south and in the southbound lane on Bond Street. The police officer found the car headed south on Bond Street, and his diagram of the accident shows that it was entirely in the northbound lane (easterly side) of Bond Street. That street is 42 feet wide at this intersection. The officer's measurements showed the right side of Harris' car to be 23 feet east of the west curb of Bond Street and its front end to be 6 feet into Preston Street (that is, 6 feet south of the north curb line of that street). The officer's testimony indicates that Harris had told him that his car had not been moved after the accident, but this was not included in the statement signed by Harris. The officer's diagram showed only one position for the Harris car; and he testified that when he received information indicating that a car had been moved after an accident, he would make a notation to that effect. Here there was no such notation.

At the trial Harris, Baker and Coleman all testified that Coleman had been sitting in the right hand front seat of Harris' car and that Baker had been in the rear seat. They further testified that Coleman, who admitted that he had been drinking a good deal, became sick when the car backed into Bond Street, that he opened the door beside him and vomited into the street, and that Baker got out of the back of the car and went to close the front door beside Coleman. Baker said that he looked as he got out, did not see any car, and closed the rear door before walking to the front door to close it. In the statements given on the night of the accident Harris was reported to have said that Baker was sick and that Baker got out of the right front door and was hit by the other car as he was getting out, and that the door was also hit. Baker's statement, according to the officer, was that he was riding in the right front of a car driven by Harris and was getting out of the car in the middle of the street and that another car hit him and the door.

Baker and Harris both testified that they saw no lights on

the hit-and-run car. Neither saw it before the accident. They said that it did not stop for the intersection, though there was a stop sign (shown on the officer's diagram) requiring it to do so, and there is testimony that it was going considerably faster than the speed limit on Bond Street.

There were no marks from which the point of impact could be determined. Baker was found by the officer within the crosswalk area at a point 21 feet east of the west curb of Bond Street, (which would have been exactly in the middle of the street) and he told the officer that he had not moved from the place where ...

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