Nos. 31238 and 31239
Decided May 19, 1948.
Motor vehicles — Owner or operator relieved from liability to gratuitous guest, when — Section 6308-6, General Code — Guest statute applies to operation over public and private thoroughfares.
1. Section 6308-6, General Code, commonly called the "guest statute," relieves the owner or operator of a motor vehicle from all liability for the injury or death of a gratuitous guest being transported in such motor vehicle, resulting from the operation thereof, unless the injury or death is caused by wilful or wanton misconduct in the operation of the vehicle.
2. Section 6308-6, General Code, applies to the operation of motor vehicles over both public and private ways or avenues of travel.
APPEALS from the Court of Appeals for Franklin county.
On April 8, 1943, Mary Eleanor Kitchens was a guest-passenger in a private automobile being driven over a thoroughfare within the limits of the Lockbourne Army Air Base (near the city of Columbus, Ohio), which air base was wholly owned by the United States. A collision occurred between the vehicle in which Mrs. Kitchens was riding and a United States Army motor truck, and Mrs. Kitchens was injured.
Two actions for damages predicated upon carelessness and negligence were filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin county against Geraldine K. Duffield, the driver of the automobile in which Mrs. Kitchens was a guest-passenger — one by Mrs. Kitchens to recover for the injuries she sustained and the other by her husband, William F. Kitchens, to recover for expenses already incurred and those to be incurred on account of the injuries to his wife.
Demurrers were filed to the second amended petitions of the Kitchens, on the ground that such petitions did not state causes of action for the reason that they failed to allege wilful or wanton misconduct on the part of the defendant within the terms of Section 6308-6, General Code.
Both demurrers were sustained by the trial court and, the plaintiffs not wishing to plead further, the amended petitions were dismissed.
Separate appeals to the Court of Appeals resulted in affirmances of the judgments below.
The cases are now in this court for determination pursuant to the allowance of motions to require the Court of Appeals to certify its records.
Messrs. McGhee, Rowe, Evans and Mr. F.J. Collopy, for appellants.
Messrs. Vorys, Sater, Seymour Pease and Mr. George E. Frater, for appellee.
There appears to be no dispute among the parties that these actions are governed by the laws of Ohio. Title 16, Section 457, United States Code.
Section 6308-6, General Code, effective in 1933 and commonly called the "guest statute," reads as follows:
"The owner, operator or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle shall not be liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or death of a guest while being transported without payment therefor in or upon said motor vehicle, resulting from the operation thereof, unless such injuries or death are caused by the wilful or wanton misconduct of such operator, owner or person responsible for the operation of said motor vehicle."
Subdivision 14 of Section 6290, General Code, defines "operator" as including any person who drives or operates a motor vehicle upon the public highways.
Plaintiffs contend that Section 6308-6, General Code, has reference only to injuries or death of guest-passengers on public roads or highways. In making this point they argue that the place where Mrs. Kitchens was injured was subject to permissive use by the army authorities and was a private driveway on private property; and that Sections 6308-6 and 6290, General Code, are in pari materia, and, read together in the light of Section 6307-8, General Code, which allows the owner of real property used by the public for the purpose of vehicular traffic to regulate travel thereon, Section 6308-6, General Code, is without application or relevancy to the instant cases.
Assuming that plaintiffs are correct in their claim that Mrs. Kitchens was injured on a private thoroughfare, we cannot subscribe to the rest of their argument.
"Clearly, the purpose of the Ohio statute [Section 6308-6, General Code] is to relieve a motorist from all liability for injury to or death of his 'guest' resulting from the operation of the motor vehicle, unless such injury or death results from the motorist's wilful or wanton misconduct in such operation." Duncan v. Hutchinson, 139 Ohio St. 185, 188, 39 N.E.2d 140, 142; Vecchio v. Vecchio, 131 Ohio St. 59, 1 N.E.2d 624.
It is also commonly recognized that "guest statutes" generally are designed and intended to discourage fraud and collusion between gratuitous guests in motor vehicles and the owners or operators thereof in the making of unjust demands against liability or casualty insurance companies for the injury of guests. Annotation, 111 A. L. R., 1011; Ward v. George, 195 Ark. 216, 112 S.W.2d 30; Taylor v. Taug, 17 Wn.2d 533, 136 P.2d 176. Compare Dobbs v. Sugioka, ___ Colo., ___, 185 P.2d 784.
The case of State v. Root, 132 Ohio St. 229, 6 N.E.2d 979, has been cited and commented upon. There, the defendant Root, while driving his automobile on a road on the grounds of the Longview State Hospital in Hamilton county, killed one Lange. Root was indicted and tried under former Section 12404-1 (now Section 6307-18), General Code, which read in part:
"Whoever shall unlawfully and unintentionally kill another while engaged in the violation of any law of this state applying to the use or regulation of traffic on, over or across the roads or highways shall be guilty of manslaughter in the second degree * * *."
Root's conviction in the trial court was reversed by the Court of Appeals. In affirming the judgment of the latter court, this court held that Section 12404-1, General Code, in its wording and intent, had reference to public roads or highways and, since the road on which the fatality occurred was not of that character, the defendant was not guilty of committing an offense within the purview of the statute.
We can perceive no parallel between the Root case and the present ones. The Root case had to do exclusively with a penal statute covering an unlawful and unintentional killing while engaged "in the violation of any law of this state applying to the use or regulation of traffic on, over or across the roads or highways." The "guest statute" was in no way involved.
It is interesting to note that Section 6307-18, superseding Section 12404-1, General Code, does not contain the words, on, over or across the roads or highways. Likewise, the "guest statute" is wholly silent with respect to the location where "wilful or wanton misconduct" must take place.
Section 6308-6, General Code, is an independent statute, complete in itself and is couched in plain language. The General Assembly has not seen fit to limit it in terms to the operation of motor vehicles on public roads or highways, and, if this court were to do so by a process of reasoning, which to say the least would be questionable, it would be exceeding its proper functions.
In our opinion, Section 6308-6, General Code, in its present form applies to the operation of motor vehicles over both public and private ways or avenues of travel.
Wherefore, the judgments of the Court of Appeals are affirmed in both cases.
WEYGANDT, C.J., TURNER, MATTHIAS, HART, SOHNGEN and STEWART, JJ., concur.