Winslow v. Jordan, 236 N.C. 166 (1952)

Sept. 17, 1952 · Supreme Court of North Carolina
236 N.C. 166


(Filed 17 September, 1952.)

Evidence § 29% —

Plaintiff is entitled to introduce in evidence any specific admission contained in tbe answer, together with such allegations of tbe complaint as illustrate or clarify tbe facts admitted, and no more, and tbe admission in evidence of allegations of tbe complaint denied by the answer and which have no direct explanatory relationship to the specific admissions in the answer, constitutes prejudicial error. An admission in the answer that the highway at the point in question was being rebuilt is not an admission that defendant negligently applied her brakes or otherwise mishandled her vehicle. An admission that plaintiff was slightly injured and that at the *167time of the accident he was employed, is not an admission of particularized serious and permanent injuries and specified elements of damage.

Appeal by defendant from Grady, Emergency Judge, and a jury, February Special Term, 1952, Pebquimans. New trial.

Civil action for personal, injury damages.

Upon issues of negligence, contributory negligence, and damages, tbe plaintiff was awarded damages. From a judgment upon tbe verdict, tbe defendant appealed, assigning errors.

W. S. Oakey, Jr., for plaintiff, appellee.

J. Henry LeBoy for defendant, appellant.

ValeNtine, J.

Tbe defendant assigns as error tbe rulings of tbe trial judge in permitting, over ber objections, tbe plaintiff to introduce in evidence paragraphs 4, 6 and 7 of tbe complaint.

Paragraph 4 of tbe complaint is as follows: “That tbe said defendant further carelessly and recklessly and negligently failed to drive ber said car on tbe half of tbe roadway which bad been finished with a final top coat, but upon approaching that place in tbe road where tbe plaintiff was working she carelessly and negligently drove over on tbe unfinished half of tbe pavement to ber right, which said portion was in a slick condition, having been coated with a thin binding coat of wet asphalt preparatory to application of tbe final thick coat; and so tbe plaintiff is informed, believes and avers she negligently applied ber brakes while on tbe said coated surface, or otherwise mishandled tbe said motor vehicle, losing control and causing tbe same to skid or run off tbe paved surface and run into tbe plaintiff in such violent manner as to throw him bodily a distance of more than 30 feet into tbe woods on tbe side of tbe road, seriously and permanently injuring tbe plaintiff in bis legs, back, neck and bead, breaking bis right leg and rendering him totally unconscious.”

To this paragraph of tbe complaint, defendant answered: “4. Answering section 4, defendant avers that she drove ber automobile on tbe right side of tbe road which was then being used by tbe traffic and which, as she understood it, was tbe side of tbe road upon which she should operate a motor vehicle. It is further admitted that the road at this point ivas Toeing rebuilt, all of which was well known to tbe plaintiff, in connection with which there was no sign or other directions suggesting to tbe defendant that she drive other than on tbe right side of tbe road. It is also admitted that, as tbe defendant eventually discovered, tbe right side of tbe road was in a very slick condition brought about by tbe application of a coat of oil or some other substance, applied by tbe plaintiff or those *168with whom he was connected in highway work. Except as herein admitted section 4 of the complaint is denied. In this connection the defendant avers that while she was operating her said automobile on the aforesaid slippery portion of the road the plaintiff attempted to cross said road directly in front of her approaching car, at which time the defendant applied brakes but found that, because of the slippery condition of the road, she was unable to stop her car in the ordinary distance, and as a result of plaintiff’s placing himself directly in front of defendant’s car a collision occurred between said car and the plaintiff, from which plaintiff was slightly injured.” (Italics ours.)

Paragraph 6 of the complaint is as follows: “That as a direct and proximate result of the said collision, caused by the negligence of the defendant, plaintiff sustained painful, serious and permanent injuries including a broken bone in the right leg below the knee, bruises and other injuries to the head and neck, and serious, painful and, it is believed, permanent injuries to his lower back, which said injuries consisted of a tearing of the muscles and ligaments and other tissues and causing the plaintiff great suffering which continues to the present day; has incurred long and expensive medical care, was confined to his home for many weeks and unable to engage in any sort of work for more than six months. The plaintiff is informed, believes and avers that the said injuries are permanent in nature and will permanently and seriously impair and damage his earning capacity and result in great and lasting loss to himself and his family which is dependent upon him, all of which is due to the negligence of the defendant.”

To this paragraph of the complaint, defendant answered: “6. It is admitted that the plaintiff was slightly injured, as aforesaid. Except as herein admitted section 6 of the complaint is denied.” (Italics ours.)

Paragraph 7 of the complaint is as follows: “That at the time of the said event herein complained of the plaintiff was gainfully employed by the North Carolina State Highway and Public Works Commission at a wage of $. That in addition thereto the plaintiff' was engaged in farming operations which had to he abandoned due to the said collision and the results thereof and from which farming operations the plaintiff, in view of the good crop season during the present year, believes that a profit of more than $2,000.00 would have been received by him during the said crop year. And that also the plaintiff was employed by the estate of E. S. White at a monthly wage of $75.00 for maintenance of property of the said estate and that all the said sources of income were completely lost to the plaintiff, which, in addition to medical expenses already incurred and which are still continuing, amount to a sum in excess of $3,500.00. And that the defendant, through her negligence as alleged *169and otherwise, has further seriously and permanently damaged the plaintiff to an extent of at least $15,000.”

To this paragraph of the complaint, defendant answered : “7. It is admitted that at the time herein mentioned the plaintiff was employed by the N. C. State Highway and Public Works Commission, in connection with the re-surfacing of said road. Except as herein admitted section I of the complaint is denied.” (Italics ours.)

Plaintiff was properly allowed to offer in evidence as admissions of the defendant the excerpts above indicated by italics. It was also proper for the plaintiff to offer from his complaint such portions as serve to explain or clarify the specific admissions in the answer, but no more. It was prejudicial error for the court to allow the plaintiff to offer parts of his complaint which were denied in the answer and which had no direct explanatory relationship to the specific admissions in the answer. The effect of this ruling was to allow the plaintiff to make evidence for himself by the production of self-serving declarations and violated the well-established principle of evidence recognized by the uniform decisions of this Court. Lupton v. Day, 211 N.C. 443, 190 S.E. 722.

All facts alleged in the complaint and controverted by the answer are fact issues. “The denial in the answer of the fact alleged in the complaint puts the controverted fact in issue, and neither is the denial evidence against nor the plaintiff’s allegation evidence for the truth of the disputed fact to be determined by the jury.” Lupton v. Day, supra; Jackson v. Love, 82 N.C. 405.

This Court has consistently held that a party may offer in evidence such parts of his adversary’s pleading as contain admissions of distinct and separate facts relative and pertinent to the inquiry, without being required to introduce the accompanying qualifying or explanatory matter. Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Banking Co., 191 N.C. 500, 132 S.E. 468.

And when an answer contains a categorical admission of a fact alleged, the plaintiff may offer such admission in evidence and so much of the allegation of his complaint as illustrates or clarifies the fact admitted. The same rule holds when there is a qualifying admission in an answer, and such portion of the corresponding allegation of the complaint as tends to explain the relevancy of the admission may also become competent. Lewis v. R. R., 132 N.C. 382, 43 S.E. 919; Modlin v. Insurance Co., 151 N.C. 35, 65 S.E. 605.

However, this rule has not been extended to permit a plaintiff to introduce as competent evidence his own allegation of a material fact which the defendant denies in his answer.

In the case at bar, the answer nowhere admits liability. Defendant bases her defense upon lack of negligence on her part and asserts that the contributory negligence of the plaintiff was a proximate cause of such *170injury as be sustained and prevents bis recovery. Therefore, it was reversible error to receive in evidence, over objection, any part of tbe complaint except sucb portions as were necessary to explain and clarify tbe specific admissions in tbe answer.

On tbis appeal, it is unnecessary to discuss tbe other exceptions appearing in tbe record.

For tbe errors pointed.out, tbe defendant is entitled to a new trial, and it is so ordered.

New trial.