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Richards v. Goff

Decided: May 28, 1975.

RUTH WHITE RICHARDS
v.
JAMES STEPHEN GOFF, MINOR, ETC., ET AL.



Appeal from the Circuit Court for Baltimore County; Cicone, J.

Moylan, Powers, Gilbert and Mason, JJ. Powers, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

Powers

The facts in this case are uncomplicated, and the significant facts are uncontroverted. The law which must be applied to those facts requires that we reverse the judgments entered in favor of the plaintiffs below.

Suit was filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County by James Stephen Goff, a minor, and Harry S. Goff, his father, against Ruth White Richards. The declaration contained two counts for damages arising out of an automobile-bicycle accident. The first count was for injuries sustained by the minor, and the second count sought to recover the medical expenses incurred by his father.

After removal of the case to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County,*fn1 a jury trial was held in that court on 28 and 29 March and 1 April 1974. At the close of the evidence a motion by the defendant for a directed verdict in her favor was denied. The jury found in favor of the minor plaintiff and his father. From the judgments entered on those

verdicts after denial of a motion for judgment n.o.v. or for a new trial, Mrs. Richards appealed. She contends in her appeal that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a directed verdict at the close of all the evidence, and that the court erred in its instructions to the jury in eleven different respects. Since we conclude that the motion for a directed verdict should have been granted, it is unnecessary to consider the instructions.

The evidence showed that all parties lived on Crandall Road, in Anne Arundel County. Crandall Road was a paved county road, 22 feet wide, with no land or center line markings. Shoulders of loose stone and gravel were about four feet wide. The road was about 3/4 of a mile long, running north and south. At the south end, it intersected Route 258, and from there, going north, it came to a dead end.

Mrs. Richards lived in the last house at the north end of Crandall Road. The Goffs lived about 600 to 700 feet to the south, and a family named Schruhl lived about 500 feet south of the Goffs. At this point Crandall Road was straight, and slightly downhill to the south. The posted speed limit was 30 miles per hour.

In the afternoon of 12 May 1972 James had been visiting at the home of his friend Chuckie Schruhl. At about 3:45 P.M. James left the Schruhl's yard, riding his bicycle. The day was clear and bright. He rode down the driveway, which sloped downhill, between high banks, to intersect with the east side of, and enter Crandall Road. James rode out onto Crandall Road. At the same time Mrs. Richards, with her sister-in-law as a passenger, was driving an automobile south on Crandall Road. The bicycle and the automobile collided, and James was severely injured.

Trooper Ralph C. Lewis, Jr., of the Maryland State Police, called by the plaintiffs as a witness, said that he answered the call and arrived at the scene. The report of the accident was made by Trooper James H. Mollman, who arrived a few minutes later. Both took part in the investigation. Trooper Lewis said, "When you are going south on Crandall Road, you come to the private drive. You cannot see up the

driveway up to your left if you are driving your car going straight ahead. You have to be almost to the driveway to see up the driveway." He testified that his diagram showed the distance to be 22 feet, that you could see something coming out of the driveway.

Mr. Goff testified that he "did some measurements yesterday, experimented with them". Asked how far back he could observe the Schruhl driveway when he was heading south, he responded, "I'd say between sixty and seventy feet." As to how far up the driveway he could see from that point he answered, "I'd say, approximately fifteen feet".

Both police officers said that there was nothing to indicate the point of impact on the roadway, such as dirt, glass, paint, or other debris. Parts of the broken bicycle were on the shoulder on the right side looking south. James was lying on that shoulder.

Trooper Lewis testified to a statement made to him by Mrs. Richards at the Schruhl home a few minutes after the accident. He read a series of questions asked of Mrs. Richards, and her answers that he recorded at that time. She had told the Trooper that she was driving south on Crandall Road from her home to take her sister-in-law home. There were no other automobiles on the road. He read further from his report:

"Question: How far was this person or vehicle away when you first observed him?

Answer: Right in front. Darted out from between banks.

Question: What was the condition of your brakes, foot or emergency, at the time of the accident?

Answer: Good.

Question: How fast were you driving at the time of this accident?

Answer: Twenty-five to thirty miles per hour.

Question: With reference to this accident, how far did your vehicle travel after the accident before coming to a complete stop?

Answer: Fifty or sixty yards.

Question: What was the condition of the street, dry, bumpy, et cetera?

Answer: Dry. Bank of dirt.

Question: Describe the lighting conditions at point where accident occurred, daylight or dark?

Answer: Daylight. It was bright.

Question: How was the visibility? How far could you see ahead, right or left?

Answer: Clear visibility front. Clear to right. Bank to the left.

Question: Were the lights on your vehicle lighted?

Answer: No.

Question: Have you anything else to say for -- I can't quite read all this, but it pertains to have you everything else to say as to what happened?

Answer: The child darted from between the banks in front of the car. I swerved to the right to try to avoid hitting the child. Went over a bank into a field. So nervous, I realized I had my foot on the gas pedal, and then came to a stop in the field."

Also put in evidence by the plaintiffs were excerpts from a deposition of Mrs. Richards taken before trial. This evidence included ...


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