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Layton v. Healy

Decided: March 28, 1951.

ANNIE S. LAYTON, ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF IVY J. LAYTON, DECEASED, AND ANNIE S. LAYTON, GENERAL ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF IVY J. LAYTON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MARY R. HEALY, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF THOMAS F. HEALY, AND FRANKLIN BOLLER, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



McGeehan, Jayne, and Wm. J. Brennan, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jayne, J.A.D.

Jayne

The present appeal implicates the propriety of a judgment directing an involuntary dismissal of the plaintiff's alleged cause of action at the close of the plaintiff's evidence relating to the element of liability. Rule 3:41-2.

A circumspect consideration of the transcript of the evidence introduced on behalf of the plaintiff has been pursued in the light of the following well-established rules:

1. Negligence is never presumed. It, or the circumstantial basis for it, must be established by competent proof. Oelschlaeger v. Hahne & Co. , 2 N.J. 490 (1949); Callahan v. National Lead Co. , 4 N.J. 150 (1950).

2. The court must accept as true all evidence which supports the view of the party against whom the motion is made and must give him the benefit of all inferences which may logically and legitimately be drawn therefrom in his favor. Such continues to be the rule. Scarano v. Lindale , 121 N.J.L. 549 (E. & A. 1939); McKinney v. Public Service Interstate Transp. Co. , 4 N.J. 229, 243 (1950).

3. Where fair-minded men might honestly differ as to the conclusions to be drawn from the facts, whether controverted

or uncontroverted, the question at issue should be submitted to the jury. Schwartz v. Rothman , 1 N.J. 206 (1948); Fischetto Paper Mill Supply v. Quigley Co. , 3 N.J. 149 (1949); Antonio v. Edwards , 5 N.J. 48 (1950).

4. Where there are no disputed facts or disputed logical inferences to be drawn from the uncontroverted facts, it devolves upon the court to declare the judgment which the law imposes. Kaufman v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co. , 2 N.J. 318 (1949).

5. The power of the trial judge to grant such motion is not, however, restricted to an utter absence of all evidence of a contradictory purport. The "mere scintilla" of evidence rule does not obtain in this State. Sivak v. New Brunswick , 122 N.J.L. 197 (E. & A. 1939).

It is explanatory to disclose that the plaintiff's decedent suffered fatal injuries in the motor vehicle collision to which this litigation relates. The driver of the other vehicle died, presumably from natural causes, during the pendency and before the trial of this action. Death had silenced the only persons who had knowledge of the circumstances amid which the mishap occurred.

That a collision actually occurred about 2:30 A.M. on June 1, 1947, on Ocean Avenue between Highlands and Sea Bright, Monmouth County, between the Plymouth sedan probably operated by the plaintiff's decedent and the Dodge coupe driven by Frank Healy, may be logically inferred from the evidence adduced.

We pause here to recognize that the mere proof of the occurrence of an accident in the circumstances here disclosed does not of itself ...


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