Counterclaims and Questions of Fact
Maynor v. Townsend
Court of Appeals of North Carolina, 1968
This case arose from an accident in which the plaintiff, Aggie Maynor (Aggie), brought a claim against the defendant, William Townsend (William), the administrator of the estate of the alleged negligent driver, Berline Carter (Berline).
In trial court, at the close of plaintiff’s evidence, the parties announced that they had reached a settlement regarding the plaintiff’s cause of action. The defendant, however, counterclaimed, alleging that the plaintiff was operating the vehicle at the time of the accident. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss and it is from that judgment that the defendant appealed.
The evidence at trial tended to show that the car in which the two women were traveling left the roadway on a rainy night. The accident killed Berline, whom the plaintiff alleged was driving the vehicle. Both of the women were thrown from the vehicle after the impact. The defendant introduced evidence that the plaintiff had made the statement that she (plaintiff) was actually driving the car at the time of the wreck. Plaintiff, in rebuttal, took the stand and testified that Berline was driving at the time of the wreck and that she had never operated a motor vehicle nor did she know how to drive a car.
Rules of Law
A counterclaim occurs when the defendant, in response to the plaintiff’s allegations in the complaint, files a claim against the defendant. In filing a counterclaim, the defendant must show that the counterclaim arises out of the same transaction or occurrence of which the plaintiff is complaining.
Where there is conflicting evidence introduced by the parties, a question of fact should be resolved by the jury. This allows the jury to consider all evidence, including the credibility of any witnesses, in making the final determination of which facts to accept as true.
The court held that, when a motor vehicle leaves the highway for no apparent cause, it is not for the court to imagine possible explanations. The court asserted that it may accept the normal and probable explanation of the driver’s negligence, and leave it to the jury to determine the true cause after considering all of the evidence. The trial court heard direct evidence tending to show that Berline was driving, and also heard conflicting evidence that Aggie was driving. Thus, the jury would have to decide the truth related to the mechanics of the accident.
The Court ruled that it was improper of the trial court to grant plaintiff’s motion to dismiss, as there was a valid jury question concerning who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, and also a question as to the actionable negligence of whoever was found to be operating the motor vehicle.
According to this case, the court determines questions of law and who has the burden of proof for certain issues, but fact determinations must be made by the jury. In addition, counterclaims are treated the same as filing a complaint against another party. In this matter, after defendant and plaintiff reached a settlement, defendant nonetheless was allowed to continue to present evidence alleging that the plaintiff was operating the vehicle. Thus, to ensure a successful personal injury claim, the plaintiff must be able to defend against such counterclaims.