HORNEY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.
Harriet M. Casey, plaintiff-appellant and cross-appellee (the plaintiff), brought suit in the Superior Court of Baltimore City against Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, a corporation sole of the State of Maryland (corporation sole or defendant), as the holder of the legal title to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church of Havre de Grace, for damages arising
In the afternoon of Saturday, October 2, 1954, before the plaintiff arrived, two workmen or sextons had cleaned and waxed the floors inside the church. At least three-fourths of the center aisle had been waxed with a liquid spread by an ordinary domestic rag mop made of twisted strings. No buffer was used because it was too late in the afternoon and the sextons thought it would be "better to leave the wax on and let the people work it out themselves," that is, by walking on it. Although there was no unanimity as to the condition of the weather, it appears that it was not conducive to quick drying. The church was not well lighted, and one witness testified that the center aisle was the darkest part of the church. The church had stained glass windows, and there was evidence that there was no artificial lighting in the main body of the church at the time of the accident.
The plaintiff, an elderly maiden lady and a member of St. Patrick's Parish, arrived at the church at about 5 o'clock, entered the main door, which was at the far end of the church from the alter, walked down the center aisle to the second pew from the main door, and prayed prior to making her confession. Her ante-confession prayers completed, she turned toward the main door, proceeded to the confessional booth immediately to the right of the center aisle from the main entrance, and remained there until about ten after five. Then, as was her custom, and in fact the usual custom for all parishioners, she walked up the center aisle toward the altar to complete her prayers. She did not notice that the floor was slippery until she slipped and fell at a point slightly over halfway to the altar rail. When her feet slipped from under her,
Father Monmonier, the parish priest, was called and, according to the sextons, he tested the floor by trying to "skate" up the aisle on the waxed surface to ascertain how slippery the floor was. He "skated" from where the plaintiff was lying and was stopped only by the altar rail. As a result of the test, he gave orders to the sextons to remove the wax immediately and to mop the center aisle with clear warm water, which was promptly done.
After the accident the plaintiff was taken to the hospital where she remained for three weeks. For three weeks after her discharge, a nurse and a maid took care of her. But the effects of her injuries persisted. It was estimated that she had a permanent disability of between thirty-five and fifty per centum, and a loss of functioning in both hands and both arms.
We shall consider the question of the sufficiency of the evidence as to negligence first, and then the errors alleged by the plaintiff.
Since there was legally sufficient evidence to entitle the plaintiff to recover, the trial court was correct in submitting the issues of negligence and contributory negligence to the jury. In Isaac Benesch & Sons v. Ferkler, 153 Md. 680, 139
In the case now before us there was ample evidence of the condition in which the floor had been left. The wax had been poured on and spread only with a rag mop, and had not been buffed. No effort had been made to leave the surface of the floor with a uniform smoothness. That task was left to "the people" by walking on it. As a result wet spots remained in the middle of the aisle which were "dangerously slippery." One such spot was within two paces from where the plaintiff fell. Other persons had slipped on the floor both before and after the plaintiff had fallen. Immediately after the accident the parish priest was able to slide or "skate" up the aisle about thirteen feet to the altar rail, whereupon he ordered the wax removed. One of the sextons had warned another parishioner, but he had not warned the plaintiff of the slippery condition. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said that there was no evidence of negligence. See Prosser, Torts (2d ed. 1955), § 78. Furthermore, whether the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence in failing to be on the lookout for a waxed floor or in not observing the slippery condition of the floor was also a question of fact for the jury, and not a question of law for the trial court to decide in this case. Isaac Benesch & Sons v. Ferkler, supra.
(ii). Voir Dire Examination.
Before the trial began the plaintiff requested the court to
The court declined to inform the jury or to ask the questions as requested. There is a difference of opinion as to whether the jurors heard the clerk recite the title of the case when it was called for trial. In any event, the trial court, after informing the jurors that one of the parties was a "religious corporation," propounded the following question:
None of the panel indicated that he had any bias or prejudice when interrogated on his voir dire. It is possible, of course, that the jurors may have heard the titling of the case when
The rule with respect to the bias or prejudice of a juror in certain cases is stated in 31 Am. Jur., Jury, § 183, in this manner:
In this State it is well settled that the scope of the questions propounded to jurors on their voir dire is largely in the discretion of the trial court. Of course, the only purpose of the inquiry is to ascertain the existence of cause for disqualification. Grossfeld v. Braverman, 203 Md. 498, 101 A.2d 824 (1954). See also Adams v. State, 200 Md. 133, 88 A.2d 556 (1952). However, it is also well settled that parties to an action triable before a jury have a right to have questions propounded to prospective jurors on their voir dire, which are directed to a specific cause for disqualification, and failure to allow such questions is an abuse of discretion constituting reversible error. Alexander v. Grier & Sons Co., 181 Md. 415, 30 A.2d 757 (1943); Cohen v. State, 173 Md. 216, 195 A. 532 (1937); Beck v. State, 151 Md. 615, 135 A. 410 (1926); Whittemore v. State, 151 Md. 309, 134 A. 322 (1926). With respect to the manner in which the trial judge should exercise his discretion we said in Bryant v. State, 207 Md. 565, 115 A.2d 502 (1955), at p. 583:
The trial court ruled that the questions submitted by the plaintiff would not be asked because the effect, if not the intent, was to inquire into the jurors' religious affiliations, which the court thought would be improper. We do not say, or even intend to intimate, that the court was required to propound the precise questions submitted. The form of the questions to be asked is clearly within the sound discretion of the court. However, it is clear that the only question propounded by the court was not sufficient to determine possible cause for disqualification by reason of bias or prejudice or otherwise. The question asked was in a form so general that it is likely it did not sufficiently indicate to the panel of jurors what possible bias or prejudice was being probed. To ask the jurors whether they would be prevented from rendering a fair and impartial verdict by the fact that a party was a "religious corporation" — which they might not even realize meant a church — without informing them of the church involved or the position of the religious corporation in the suit would defeat the whole purpose of questioning jurors on their voir dire. We think there is no doubt that the court should have informed the prospective jurors that the action was a suit by Harriet M. Casey against Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, a corporation sole, for personal injuries allegedly arising out of an accident which occurred in St. Patrick's Church at Havre de Grace on October 2, 1954; that the suit was against the corporation only, as the holder of the legal title to the church building; and that it was not a suit against the Archbishop of Baltimore personally nor against him in his ecclesiastical capacity as such Archbishop. Then, the court should have propounded a question inquiring if there was any
Beyond this, however, even if the trial court was correct in its characterization of the question it propounded, the law is clear that, if the religious affiliation of a juror might reasonably prevent him from arriving at a fair and impartial verdict in a particular case because of the nature of the case, the parties are entitled to ferret out, or preferably have the court discover for them, the existence of bias or prejudice resulting from such affiliation. In other words, a party is entitled to a jury free of all disqualifying bias or prejudice without exception, and not merely a jury free of bias or prejudice of a general or abstract nature. Cf. Adams v. State, supra. And see Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304 (1881), [jurors asked if they believed in the truth of Mormon teachings]; People v. Reyes, 5 Cal. 347 (1855), [conviction of Mexican Roman Catholic reversed because trial court refused to inquire if prospective jurors were members of the Know Nothing Party and had taken a secret obligation under which they could not possibly have given a Roman Catholic a fair and impartial trial]; Smith v. Smith, 7 Cal.App.2d 271, 46 P.2d 232 (1935), [jurors asked if their religious belief in regard to divorce and remarriage might affect the verdict]. See also Cleage v. Hyden, 53 Tenn. 73 (1871). We hold that the examination of the prospective jurors on their voir dire in this case was not sufficiently comprehensive to assure the selection of a fair and impartial jury.
(iii). Deletion of Part of Pre-trial Statement.
Prior to the trial of this case, the plaintiff's witness, Sergeant
In the Rhinehart case, supra, even though a "farm bureau" sign on an automobile seen at the scene of the accident carried a suggestion of insurance, it was held that:
This Court has often recognized that when the reference to insurance is made by the defendant, he is in no position to move for a mistrial. International Co. v. Clark, 147 Md. 34, 127 A. 647 (1925); Note, 5 Md. L. Rev. 422 (1941). In the Takoma Park Bank case, supra, an action against a bank by the lessees of a safe deposit box for the loss of the contents of the box, the Court held that it was proper for the trial court to admit a statement made by the vice-president of the bank that the plaintiff had nothing to worry about since the bank was protected by insurance. At p. 265, we said:
The Maryland cases previously referred to are not directly in point since the issue here is whether the defendant has a right to delete a reference to insurance before any mention of insurance is made at the trial. Those cases involved only situations where the defendant had already introduced evidence of insurance and then sought a mistrial. However, it should not be overlooked that the Takoma Park Bank case, supra, is also authority to hold that the remark made by the priest relative to "not worrying about it" could be construed as an excuse for relaxation of care and diligence, and therefore relevant to the issues in the instant case. At p. 265, we also said:
See also Olson v. Sharpe, 36 Tenn. App. 557, 259 S.W.2d 867 (1953), in which it was held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the plaintiff to introduce a certificate of indemnity insurance for the purpose of showing the existence of a master-servant relationship, which was one of the issues in the case. The statement in McCormick, Evidence (1954), § 168, is also pertinent:
In a case such as this — where the defendant desires to introduce a signed statement into the evidence, but without the reference therein to insurance, for the purpose of impeaching a witness — and where the deletion of the phrase in which the reference appears materially changes, in one way or another, the meaning of what the witness has said in the statement as to facts which are relevant and clearly admissible, as the statement in this case does — we hold that the defendant must elect between an introduction of the whole statement without alteration or none of it. Where the deletion would produce a substantial alteration of the meaning of the phrase in which the reference to insurance was used, the exclusion should not be permitted.
(iv). Instructions as to Damages.
Strictly speaking, there was no assignment of error in the instructions with respect to damages. After the original instruction to the jury had been made, the plaintiff objected to two omissions in the charge by pointing out to the trial judge that he had omitted any mention of the plaintiff's "inability to do her household duties," and that the court had denied her "any recovery for her crippled condition." The judge by his amended charge instructed the jury that the plaintiff was entitled to a "fair and reasonable [sum] for the * * * loss of use of her hands in personal or household matters, in addition to the loss of earning power." On appeal the plaintiff contends that the court did not include in the amended instruction the omissions from the original instruction except in the alternative. She insists that a proper instruction would have informed the jury that she was entitled to compensation
However, in this instance, since the case is to be retried, we think it is desirable, if not necessary, for us to comment briefly on the instructions of the court with respect to damages. If the original and amended instructions are read together as we read them, we think it is clear that the charge as a whole contains a fair statement of the law with respect to damages in a case such as this. See West v. Belle Isle Cab Co., 203 Md. 244, 100 A.2d 17 (1953). The law on the subject was fairly covered by the instructions in the present case, and that is all the rule requires. We have repeatedly stressed the fact that we cannot put the "trial judge in a strait jacket and prescribe or adopt a formula to be used and followed by him," with respect to his instructions to the jury. State, use of Taylor v. Barlly, 216 Md. 94, 140 A.2d 173 (1958), and cases therein cited. We have also held that it is sufficient if the question or point of law involved is "fully and comprehensively covered" by the judge in his instructions. Ager v. Baltimore Transit Co., 213 Md. 414, 132 A.2d 469 (1957).
For the reasons assigned the judgment must be reversed, and the case remanded for a new trial.
Judgment Reversed and Case Remanded for a New Trial, the Appellee to Pay the Costs.
HAMMOND J., filed the following dissenting opinion.
I agree with the Court that the trial judge should have
The Court's decision on the use of the altered statement of the witness Moore seems to me wrong and unfortunate. It is still the rule in Maryland — whether or not it is a good or bad rule — that negligence cases are supposed to be tried and determined as if insurance were not involved — even negligence cases against charitable corporations. If the defendant brings out the fact that he is insured generally he may not call for a mistrial even though, in the words of this Court as to juries in International Co. v. Clark, 147 Md. 34, 42, "it seems to be natural and a weakness of human nature to allow the fact that the record defendant will not have to pay the judgment, to influence them in their verdict * * *."
If the aim is to continue to be to keep from the jury whether or not the defendant is insured, a defendant who desires to bring out the truth by use of a statement that contains a reference to insurance should be allowed to alter the statement even to the point of slight distortion of meaning, and use it.
A fundamental and primary purpose of a law suit is to reveal the true facts. Because a law suit is an adversary contest is no reason to put difficulties in the way of this purpose by hampering a party who seeks to show facts favorable to him. The Court has erected such a road block by finding a distortion of meaning where none existed and thus requiring a defendant to elect between not using a paper calculated to draw out the truth and using it at the disadvantage of letting the jury know he is insured.
It may well be that the rule as to the jury's knowledge of insurance should be changed. If so, it should be done directly by the Legislature. The Court should not, I feel, change it piecemeal by requiring a defendant to reveal the fact he is insured or lose the use of a weapon effective in bringing out the truth.
By straining to find an altered meaning, where none existed, the Court has begun the change in the instant case, it seems to me.