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Olson v. Augsberger

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Nov 27, 1962
118 N.W.2d 194 (Wis. 1962)

Summary

In Olson v. Augsberger, 18 Wis.2d 197, 201, 118 N.W.2d 194 (1962), the court modified the language limiting the retroactive application of a new rule to except that case and to permit a party to enjoy the new rule where it seemed unjust not to do so.

Summary of this case from Harmann v. Hadley

Opinion

October 30, 1962 —

November 27, 1962.

APPEAL from parts of an order and a judgment and from an order of the circuit court of Calumet county: HELMUTH F. ARPS, Circuit Judge. Reversed, with directions.

For the appellant there was a brief by Bender, Trump, Davidson Godfrey, attorneys, and Richard R. Robinson of counsel, all of Milwaukee, and oral argument by Mr. Robinson.

For the respondents there was a brief by Humke, Poole Axel of Sheboygan, and oral argument by John M. Poole.


This appeal involves the question of whether the amount of contribution of the two different tort-feasors should be proportional to the causal negligence attributed to each. On September 19, 1959, a freight train of the defendant-appellant Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Pacific Railroad Company collided with an automobile driven by the defendant-respondent Frederick John Augsberger and insured by the defendant-respondent Farmers Mutual Automobile Insurance Company at a railroad grade crossing in Calumet county. The three plaintiffs were passengers in the automobile and recovered judgments against the defendants for their injuries. The judgment provided for the contribution between the defendants on a pro rata basis. The verdict returned by the jury on November 24, 1961, found the driver, the railroad, and the three plaintiffs all causally negligent and in three apportionments allocated 20 percent of the causal negligence to the railroad in relation to each of the three plaintiffs, 78 percent of such negligence to the driver and two percent to each of the plaintiffs Elizabeth Olson and Eleanore Augsberger, passengers in the rear seat of the automobile, and 74 percent of such negligence to the driver and six percent to the plaintiff Richard Olson, a front-seat passenger.

The defendant railroad on motions after verdict sought a judgment for contribution in proportion to the causal negligence attributable to each defendant. The trial court on January 12, 1962, however, sustained the verdict without discussing the issue of contribution. Judgment was accordingly entered on January 26, 1962, in which each defendant was granted contribution against the other for one half of the amount recovered by each of the plaintiffs. The notice of entry of judgment received by the defendant railroad on February 12, 1962, did not state judgments for contribution had been entered. On March 6, 1962, Bielski v. Schulze, 16 Wis.2d 1, 114 N.W.2d 105, was decided and within a week the defendant railroad moved to modify the judgment to grant contribution on the basis of causal negligence attributable to each defendant. The motion was denied and the defendant railroad appealed.


At the outset we point out this appeal is properly taken only from the judgment. The order for judgment and the order denying the motion to review and modify the judgment are not appealable orders. In Bielski v. Schulze, supra, we determined the amount of contribution between joint tort-feasors having a common liability was to be determined in proportion to the causal negligence attributable to each in the verdict. The new rule was applied retrospectively except in three classes of cases. Generally when a court overrules a doctrine of common law, the new rule of the decision applies retroactively. Will of Allis (1959), 6 Wis.2d 1, 9, 94 N.W.2d 226; Estate of Bray (1950), 257 Wis. 507, 509, 44 N.W.2d 245; 14 Am. Jur., Courts, p. 345, sec. 130. See Theisen v. Milwaukee Automobile Mut. Ins. Co., ante, p. 91, 118 N.W.2d 140, which applied retroactively the rule of McConville v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co. (1962), 15 Wis.2d 374, 113 N.W.2d 14. However, this court can limit the retrospective operation of a decision and make it exclusively prospective or applicable to the case and condition its prospective operation. Kojis v. Doctors Hospital (1961), 12 Wis.2d 367, 373, 107 N.W.2d 131, 107 N.W.2d 292; Great Northern R. Co. v. Sunburst Oil Refining Co. (1932), 287 U.S. 358, 53 Sup. Ct. 145, 77 L.Ed. 360. The basis of the court's choice in our latest cases is well set forth in the recent law-review article of Mr. Justice THOMAS E. FAIRCHILD. The rule-making power of the court under sec. 251.18, Stats., has no application to the power of the court to determine the effective date or the conditions of the application of a new rule of substantive law. There is no merit in the argument of the appellant that the limitations on the retrospective operation of Bielski are invalid.

Sec. 274.33, Stats.; see Walther, Wisconsin Supreme Court Practice — Appealability of Orders and Judgments, Vol. 2, No. 4, Wisconsin Continuing Legal Education (Oct. 1962), p. 23.

Recent Developments in the Area of Torts, 46 Marquette Law Review (1962), 1.

The appellant further contends it is entitled to proportional contribution because this case does not come within any of the three exceptions of the application of the rule retrospectively and also because it properly raised the issue in the trial court and preserved its rights on appeal. The only exception in the retrospective application of the rule which might bar the appellant from its benefits is the language in Bielski providing the rule would not apply (p. 19), "where a judgment based upon the old rules has been entered and no motion to vacate it has been made or appeal taken before this date" (March 6, 1962). The purpose of this exception was to prevent a judgment settled on the old rule from being disturbed on appeal solely on the ground of the new rule. The exception contemplated a judgment was settled upon the old rule unless a motion to vacate it had been made or an appeal had been taken on some ground other than the new rule which had not yet been announced. A judgment which was under attack at the time the Bielski decision was rendered is entitled to receive the benefits of the new rule unless it came under the other two exceptions. In Longberg v. H. L. Green Co. (1962), 15 Wis.2d 505, 113 N.W.2d 129, 114 N.W.2d 435, originally decided on February 6, 1962, a motion for rehearing was filed and pending on the date of the Bielski decision and we held the case did not fall within any of the three excepted classifications. A case decided today where the judgment was not under attack and came under the first exception is Heritage Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sheboygan County, ante, p. 166, 118 N.W.2d 118.

This is an unusual case in that prior to the judgment and before the decision of Bielski, the defendant railroad moved the trial court on motions after verdict for contribution on a proportional basis, properly preserved its right on appeal, and thus raised the same issue presented in Bielski. The first excluded class of cases to the retrospective application of Bielski did not contemplate this situation although its language is broad enough to cover the instant case. It would be unjust to deny the defendant railroad the right to proportional contribution because it did not appeal before March 6th when it at that time had raised the issue in the trial court. The language of this exclusion must be modified to except therefrom the instant case. This requires a reversal of that part of the judgment dealing with the amount of the contribution. By the Court. — That part of the judgment appealed from is reversed, with directions to enter judgment of contribution in favor of the defendant-respondents Frederick John Augsberger and Farmers Mutual Automobile Insurance Company against the defendant-appellant Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Pacific Railroad Company, and a judgment in favor of the defendant-appellant against the defendant-respondents in accordance with the rule of Bielski v. Schulze.


Summaries of

Olson v. Augsberger

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Nov 27, 1962
118 N.W.2d 194 (Wis. 1962)

In Olson v. Augsberger, 18 Wis.2d 197, 201, 118 N.W.2d 194 (1962), the court modified the language limiting the retroactive application of a new rule to except that case and to permit a party to enjoy the new rule where it seemed unjust not to do so.

Summary of this case from Harmann v. Hadley
Case details for

Olson v. Augsberger

Case Details

Full title:OLSON and others, Plaintiffs, v. AUGSBERGER and another, Defendants and…

Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Date published: Nov 27, 1962

Citations

118 N.W.2d 194 (Wis. 1962)
118 N.W.2d 194

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