Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Third Street Carriage Crash in September 1898 (Part II)

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Yesterday's Historic Pelham Blog posting dealt with "The Third Street Carriage Crash in September 1898 (Part I)". The carriage crash occurred while the Village of Pelham was in the process of widening Third Street approaching a bridge that crossed the Hutchinson River. Once the approach to the bridge from the Village of Pelham was widened, the end of the bridge stood near the middle of the roadway. The construction process was not completed until October 1898.

On September 16, 1898, however, a horse-drawn carriage carrying August Reiss and Charles Weber crashed into the end of the bridge at about 8:30 p.m. killing the horse and injuring the occupants of the carriage. The pair sued the Town of Pelham but failed to follow proper procedures to permit suit against the Village of Pelham. The plaintiffs alleged that the commissioner of highways of the Town of Pelham "negligently and improperly placed or caused or permitted to be placed a rail, as a part of, or as an approach to, the eastern end of the bridge." The suit produced a dozen reported decisions as the courts tried to sort out liability for the incident. Today's Blog posting will continue the saga of the litigation that resulted from the Third Street Carriage Crash of September 1898.

On July 17, 1900, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department released a decision. The Appellate Division was charged with deciding whether the lower court decision to grant a new trial based on "newly-discovered evidence" should be affirmed or reversed. The Court held that the law supported the decision of the lower court, but nonetheless reversed the decision to grant a new trial holding that:

"[W]e have reached the conclusion, however, that the dangerous condition of the highway in the village of Pelham, where the accident occurred, was due to the fact that the widening of the village street rendered the very existence of the bridge a menace, which of itself did the mischief, and that the accident, therefore, was not due in any degree to negligence with which the defendant is legally chargeable."

The appellate court, therefore, affirmed judgment in favor of the Town of Pelham. See Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 53 A.D. 459, 65 N.Y.S. 1033, 1035-36 (App. Div. 2d Dep't 1900).

The matter was not settled. On October 26, 1900, the same Court granted plaintiffs' motion for leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals (the State's highest court). This, in effect, granted permission to appeal the decision of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department to the highest Court of the State. See Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 54 A.D. 628, 66 N.Y.S. 1142 (App. Div. 2nd Dep't 1900). The question certified to the New York Court of Appeals for determination was the following: "Irrespective of the question of the possession of funds by the defendant's highway commissioner, do the facts disclosed by the record herein require a submission to the jury of the question of negligence on the part of the defendant?"

The New York Court of Appeals issued its decision on February 25, 1902. The decision was not what any of the parties expected or hoped for. The Court of Appeals found a "defect" in the record of proceedings below that prompted it to refuse to render any decision. The Court ruled:

"The only question presented for our consideration at this time is the one certified to us by the appellate division on allowing the plaintiffs to appeal from its order. The determination of this controversy on the merits, which resulted in the judgment of the trial term in favor of the defendant, and its affirmance by the appellate division, can be reviewed here only upon an appeal from the judgment of the latter court. As the question certified relates solely to the merits, it must be regarded, in the present state of the record, as purely abstract, and the appeals should be dismissed". Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 170 N.Y. 54, 58, 62 N.E. 1083, 1084 (N.Y. 1902).

The Appellate Division, Second Department, quickly entered an order affirming both the orders denying a motion for a new trial and judgment in favor of the Town of Pelham. Once again, the Court certified the question to the New York Court of Appeals for final determination. See Reiss v. Town of Pelham, 72 A.D. 632, 76 N.Y.S. 1028 (App. Div. 2nd Dep't 1902). The stage was set for a determination of the issue by New York's highest court.

After all this, the published record of the case virtually ends. There is a brief and cryptic decision by the intermediate appellate court on June 19, 1902 stating "No opinion. Orders settled and signed." Beyond that, the record of reported judicial decisions is silent regarding any resolution of the case. Was the matter settled before decision by the Court? We do not yet know. The resolution of the case remains yet another of the many mysteries created by the passage of time -- a mystery that undoubtedly can be solved and will, one day, be solved.

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