Haymaker v. General Tire Inc

In Haymaker v. General Tire Inc., 187 W. Va. 532, 420 S.E.2d 292 (1992), the lower court had granted summary judgment in favor of the appellees, General Tire, Inc., and Turnpike Ford, Inc., based upon a determination that a general release signed by the appellant, David Michael Matheny, settling his claim against the estate of Kevin D. Haymaker and Deanna L. Haymaker also released the appellees. The appellant was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Kevin D. Haymaker when a single vehicle accident occurred. Kevin D. Haymaker was killed as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The appellant entered into a settlement agreement with the estate of Mr. Haymaker and Mrs. Haymaker and specifically released those two parties for $ 12,000 in consideration. Id. at 532, 420 S.E.2d at 292. The appellant later brought action against Turnpike Ford, Inc., the dealer who sold the vehicle to Mr. Haymaker's wife, as well as General Tire, Inc., the manufacturer of the tires on the vehicle. The appellant alleged that the accident was caused by a faulty left rear tire which exploded, causing Mr. Haymaker to lose control of the car. Id. The appellees argued that the language of the release which provided that "'all other persons, firms or corporations liable or who might be claimed to be liable . . . are released from any and all claims, demands, damages, actions, causes of actions or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever'" released them as well and precluded the appellant's claim against the respective entities. Id. at 533, 420 S.E.2d at 293. The appellant sought to introduce the affidavit of a claims superintendent with Mr. Haymaker's insurer to show that "the release was only intended to release Mr. Haymaker, and was not intended to release any other person." Id. The trial court refused to consider the parol evidence. In reversing the trial court's decision to preclude the admission of parol evidence, we held in the syllabus of Haymaker, that "the parol evidence rule may not be invoked by a stranger to a release." Id. at 532, 420 S.E.2d at 292, Syllabus. The Court premised this holding, however, upon the lack of any type of relationship between the parties involved: Permitting the use of parol evidence to interpret a release in actions between a party to a release and a stranger thereto is also consistent with the rule in this jurisdiction that permits the use of parol evidence by an injured party to determine the intent of the parties to release successive tortfeasors in an agreement to release the original tortfeasor. See Thornton v. Charleston Area Medical Center, 158 W. Va. 504, 213 S.E.2d 102 (1975). (187 W. Va. at 534, 420 S.E.2d at 294.) The Court also found that the adoption of such a rule precluding a stranger to a release to invoke the parol evidence rule was consistent with West Virginia Code 55-7-12 (1931), which provided: 'A release to, or an accord and satisfaction with, one or more joint trespassers, or tort-feasors, shall not inure to the benefit of another such trespasser, or tort-feasor, and shall be no bar to an action or suit against such other joint trespasser, or tort-feasor, for the same cause of action to which the release or accord and satisfaction relates.' (187 W. Va. at 534, 420 S.E.2d at 294 (quoting W. Va. Code 55-7-12))