PRESCOTT, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.
The appellant was the driver of an automobile which was involved in a collision with an automobile driven by Evelyn Conrad, a sister of the appellees, near Hagerstown on July 5, 1954. Evelyn Conrad died five days later of injuries received in the collision. Two suits were filed against him, one by the Executor for medical expenses, pain and suffering and one by the appellees for pecuniary loss under Article 67 generally referred to as "Lord Campbell's Act".
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff in the Executor's suit of $8,538.71. In the Lord Campbell's suit the jury found on the issues submitted to them that the sisters were "wholly dependent" upon Evelyn Conrad and returned a verdict of $7,650, — apportioned $3,600 to Olive and $4,050 to Rosella.
This appeal is taken in the Lord Campbell's suit only and is from the refusal of the trial court to instruct the jury that the appellees were not "wholly dependent" upon their deceased sister, Evelyn Conrad.
At the time of her death, Evelyn Conrad lived in Arlington, Va., and worked in Washington as a Clerk for the Department of the Army. She was 57 years old and unmarried. She left surviving her three brothers and three sisters, including Olive and Rosella. The three surviving brothers were married and had families of their own. At the time of their sister's death in 1954, Olive was 69 years of age, and Rosella 67. Like their sister, Evelyn, they had never married. The two
The support furnished by Evelyn to her two sisters consisted of a check for $15 sent to them each month, which was supplemented by a check in the amount of $25 each month from the tenant of the gas station owned by Evelyn, making monthly cash payments to the two sisters together of $40. Both sisters testified that Evelyn paid, in addition, bills which Olive estimated came to $35 a month. These took the form of contributions to their church, insurance premiums on Rosella's life, doctor bills for Rosella and taxes and repairs to the house. Both sisters estimated they collectively received from Evelyn the equivalent of $75 per month.
The house in which the sisters lived was a seven-room three-bedroom house. Olive testified it was worth $2,400; and that she and her sister paid no rent.
In addition to their interest in their mother's property, Olive and Rosella had an interest in the estate of their deceased brother, Alex, who died in 1951, and whose estate apparently had not been distributed at the time of the trial of this case. Bernard Conrad, a brother and Executor of Evelyn's estate, stated he did not know the size of his deceased brother's estate, but Olive testified it was $995, which she said would go to her father's and mother's estates. Olive also testified that her brother left her, Rosella, and Evelyn his share in the homeplace. Olive estimated the value of the three lots in Chest Springs, left under her mother's will, at $50 apiece.
Both sisters testified they were not employed at the time of Evelyn's death. Rosella stated she never worked in her life.
The sole question here presented is whether Olive and Rosella Conrad were, "as a matter of fact", "wholly dependent" upon their deceased sister, Evelyn Conrad, at the time of her death July 10, 1954, so as to enable them to bring suit under Art. 67, Sec. 4 of the Code of Maryland (1951). The appellant, of course, contends the facts do not show them to have been "wholly dependent" under the statute, and the appellees maintain the facts do.
Prior to 1852, under the common law, Maryland permitted no recovery for pecuniary loss suffered by a relative of one killed by the negligence of another. In that year, the Legislature enacted Ch. 299 of the Acts of 1852, which provided an action at law for the benefit of a wife, husband, parent and child of a person whose death shall have been caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another, against the person wrongfully causing said death. The list of persons entitled to recover under the then Sec. 2 of the above Act, remained the same until 1937, when it was enlarged to permit recovery by the mother of an illegitimate child and by an illegitimate child when the deceased person was the mother of such child. In 1952, the Legislature again added to this list by including relatives of the deceased who met certain dependency qualifications, but only if there were no surviving wife, husband, parent or child. The pertinent part of the present law, (Art. 67, Sec. 4), reads:
It will be noted in the above, if the action be brought by
We are strongly urged to hold that our "Lord Campbell's Act" is in derogation of the common law, and therefore should be strictly construed. This Court has so held on at least two occasions: Demczuk v. Jenifer, 138 Md. 488, and Dunnigan v. Cobourn, 171 Md. 23, and, we see no necessity to hold to the contrary now.
The primary and fundamental purposes in construing and interpreting a statute are to ascertain, and to carry out, the true intention of the law. The object of all rules, canons of construction and maxims is to act as aids and guides in discovering the real legislative intent. They are not completely rigid and intractable and must give way to a clear intention to the contrary.
"Strict construction" means that a statute is not to be construed beyond its natural meaning, (In re Bragg's Estate (Mont.), 76 P.2d 57, 63). The term is not a precise but a relative expression varying in degree according to the character of the law being construed, (Cummins v. Kansas City Pub. Serv. Co. (Mo.), 66 S.W.2d 920). It is not the exact
"Dependent" has been defined by this Court as one who relies wholly or in part upon another for the reasonable necessities of life. Havre de Grace Fireworks Co. v. Howe, 206 Md. 158. Funk and Wagnalls' New Standard Dictionary defines "wholly" as follows: "To an extent or degree that nothing remains to be added; completely." It readily and immediately is seen that a literal and too narrow construction would violate the legislative intention; because, there is hardly one in ten thousand who is "completely" or 100% dependent on another. We cannot assume an intention that would accomplish little, if anything, by way of relief. However, the phrase "wholly dependent", does have a meaning and it is our responsibility to ascertain it. In 1944, our Workmen's Compensation Act provided certain persons should be presumed to be "wholly dependent". These words were not there, nor are they here, precisely defined; but, this Court stated that in numerous cases in other jurisdictions, the facts had been discussed, and the Courts had said whether receipt of other income of various kinds prevented one from being "wholly dependent" and set forth what the Court of Appeals termed "The almost universal rule" for determining the same. Larkin v. Smith, 183 Md. 274. Eight years after this decision, the Legislature adopted the provision we have under consideration, using, as we have seen, the same phrase "wholly dependent". With this sequence of events, we think the conclusion inescapable that the clear legislative intention is manifest that the Legislature intended the same rule to be applied to this statute as announced, and applied to the other. After all, it does not seem probable that a deliberative body such as our Legislature, excepting on very rare occasions, would use
This conclusion is further impelled by the decision, over twenty years ago, of this Court in Storrs et al. v. Mech et al., 166 Md. 124, wherein it was held, "There is nothing in conflict between the provisions of article 67, `Lord Campbell's Act,' and article 101, `Workmen's Compensation.' They both unquestionably deal with recovery for injuries resulting in death. The two statutes are in pari materia and must be construed together." It was also held therein the Workmen's Compensation Law added to section 2 of the Lord Campbell's Act an additional class that may sue under the provisions of said act; and, the insurer under the Compensation Law, whoever he may be, can sue the tort-feasor, who caused the death of the deceased. See also Clough & Molloy v. Shilling, 149 Md. 189, and Mech v. Storrs, 169 Md. 150.
Appellant argues the sisters had shelter from another source than the deceased; and, as shelter was an integral part of subsistence, the sisters could not have been wholly dependent on deceased, as a matter of law. He argues the sisters had a life
Appellant cited to us the cases of In re McDonald (Mass.), 118 N.E. 949, and In re Derinza (Mass.), 118 N.E. 942. They are compensation cases and similar; we will consider the former, as it is the one more favorable to him. The Massachusetts statute required the claimant to be "wholly dependent" for support upon the wages of the deceased. The wife owned a lot and 8 room house in good repair. It was held this did not justify a finding that the widow was "wholly dependent" on the deceased's earnings. This same Court had, however, just 4 and 3 years, respectively, prior thereto decided the cases of In re Buckley (Mass.), 105 N.E. 979, and In re Carter (Mass.), 108 N.E. 911. In the former, it was held where the claimant had an interest (the same being at most a life interest) in the house in which she and her sisters lived, it did not prevent her from being "wholly dependent"; and, in the latter, a daughter, who for 3 years lived in a house with her mother, away from her father and without his paying the rent, and, who had saved $100, was held to be "totally dependent". It will be seen that the Court made an entirely different holding on the ownership of a house of considerable
In Harvey v. Roche & Son, 148 Md. 363, this Court upheld a holding of total dependency on the husband where the wife had been living apart from him, and, in addition to what she received from him, $10 per week from a boarder. And in Larkin v. Smith, supra, the claimant was living in a house partially owned by her.
We are of the opinion the estate (other than the remainder) held by the sisters, in the case at bar, in this house was of such little value and so nebulous in nature it is almost covered by the maxim "De Minimis Non Curat Lex".
Judgment affirmed, with costs.