Horrible Car Accident in Morehouseville Results in Court Case

Source: New York Court of Appeals. Records and Briefs.


Zada M. Lavender, as administratrix of the goods, chattels and credits of William Lavender, deceased, Plaintiff,
Nettie Lavender, an infant, by her Guardian ad Litem, Egbert T. Cross, Defendant.

Zada M. Lavender, Plaintiff,
Nettie Lavender, an infant, by her Guardian ad Litem, Egbert T. Cross, Defendant.

William S. Lavender, an Infant, by Zada M. Lavender, his Guardian ad Litem, Plaintiff,
Nettie Lavender, an infant, by her Guardian ad Litem, Egbert T. Cross, Defendant.

John Charles. Lavender, an Infant, by Zada M. Lavender, his Guardian ad Litem, Plaintiff,
Nettie Lavender, an infant, by her Guardian ad Litem, Egbert T. Cross, Defendant.

Case and Exceptions.

The above entitled actions came on for trial at a trial term of the Supreme Court, held in and for the county of Fulton, at the Court House in the City of Johnstown, Fulton County, New York, on the 27th day of October, 1931, before Hon. Erskine C. Rogers, Justice of the Supreme Court, and a jury. Appearances:

Henry J. Crawford, Esq., Judge Charles E. Hardies, Attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Smith, Seubert & Dolan, Esqs., Attorneys for the defendant.

A jury was duly impanelled and sworn at 10:30 A. M.

Mr. Crawford made the following opening address to the jury: Gentlemen of the Jury:

We have four cases which have been brought together here at one time. You have heard the names of the parties. One is the action of Zada M. Lavender, the widow of William Lavender. She is bringing an action as administratrix of the goods, chattels and credits of her husband against Nettie Lavender. Another action is her individual action against Nettie Lavender to recover for personal injuries which she sustained in the accident which has been mentioned here. The other two actions are actions of her two boys, these boys sitting here, against Nettie Lavender.

This accident out of which these actions arose occurred upon April 12th, 1931, about four o'clock in the afternoon at or near Morehouseville in Hamilton County. "We will show that on this day of the accident along in the afternoon, Nettie Lavender was driving the automobile which was owned by William Lavender, her brother. William Lavender was sitting on the front seat, as we understand, with Nettie who was driving. In the back seat was Zada M. Lavender, the widow here and one of her two children, also the father and mother of Nettie Lavender were riding in the back seat.

They left Gloversville and drove to Morehouseville, a matter of 75 to 100 miles, the distance will appear here and the place where the accident occurred was on the state highway, and the road was practically level, a slight grade, a down grade, a very slight grade. There was a curve in the road to the right, a very slight curve at the place where the accident occurred and to the left of the roadway there was an outcropping of rock there which was level, and formed a level space, perhaps eight or nine feet in width from the edge of the road out to the left extending along the entire length of the road at that place.

This automobile at the time the accident occurred or immediately before the accident occurred was travelling at a speed of not exceeding 30 miles an hour, when some members of the party noticed that the car was over to the left of the center of the road and Mr. William Lavender, the owner of the car, who was sitting in front with the driver said, look out, don't get so far over, or some words of that kind and then the car proceeded without slackening its speed to its left off the road some little distance and then started to swing around to its right, the speed of the car was not slackened, as the witnesses will tell you and then the car swung sharply around to its right and back upon the highway and then turned over.

Now we claim that this accident was due entirely to the negligence of this defendant in the manner in which she operated the car. It is our theory and I think our proof will show that this driver temporarily had gone to sleep and dozed off and permitted the car to drive over to the left hand side of the road and when Mr. William Lavender, the owner, noticed this and spoke sharply, look out and get back where you belong or whatever those words were, he startled the driver and woke her up and she negligently permitted the car to go off upon the left, all four wheels were off the road and then proceeded instead of bringing it back and doing it gradually off the side of the road on this flat piece of rock and had gone down many car lengths before trying to get the car back upon the right, instead of doing that, she brought this, car over sharply without slackening its speed and without applying the brakes, she commenced to turn the car sharply to get it back upon the road when it turned over as a result of the defendant's negligence and as a result of that car turning over, William Lavender was so seriously injured that he died as a result of his injuries. He was taken, I believe, to the hospital. He was unconscious at the time and died within a few hours from the results of the injuries which he sustained.

This action has been brought by his widow who was appointed by the Surrogate's Court of this county the administratrix of his goods, chattels and credits for the benefit of his next of kin. The next of kin in this case was his widow and her two boys here. You can see them as they sit here. We will show you the financial loss that these next of kin, the widow and the two boys have sustained as a result of the injuries and we will then ask you to find that this death was caused solely by the carelessness and negligence of the defendant and we will ask you to render a verdict in the nature of damages for the benefit of the next of kin.

In the action brought by Zada M. Lavender, we will show you that she was thrown out of the car when it turned over and that she sustained injuries, that she was black and blue all over and her principal injury was to her left shoulder. She went and saw a doctor once for that injury so I have been informed and he said there was nothing much to be done and that nature would take care of it in due course. We will show you that she suffered intense pain from that injury to her shoulder and that it was a matter of a month or two months before the black and blue marks disappeared. Since that time she has been unable to sleep and lay upon that side. She had had considerable difficulty with it from that day to this.

Now the two boys, they were cut and bruised to a considerable extent, one of them outside of some scars has practically recovered, the other boy in addition to his having scars and so on is still extremely nervous and does not sleep well at all at nights. He was not out of school and still he has not been able to make any progress in school this year and we will ask you to render a verdict in favor of these boys also.

Mr. Seubert opened the case to the jury in behalf of the defendant.

The record continues with the examinations and cross examinations for the plaintiff's and defendent. I have not included the entire text here. If you are interested in this case, it can be found by searching Google books. However the following information was provided during testimony:

At the time of the accident on 12 Apr 1931, the road was made of macadam with a wide sod shoulder. The car was a 4 door, 5 passenger Nash. The occupants were Nettie Lavender (18 years old, 250 pounds), the driver, William Lavender (35 years old, 6 foot tall, 170 pounds), brother of Nettie and John Charles Lavender (9 years old, 75 pounds), son of William in the front seat. In the back seat were William S. Lavender (7 years old, 77 pounds), son of William, Zada Lavender (30 years old, 123 pounds), wife of William and Williams parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Lavender (John being 6 foot and 3-4 inches tall). Approximately one year previously, William Lavender had lost his license to drive. The day before the accident, Nettie had obtained her first license to drive and had mainly driven a Chevrolet, not her brother's Nash. The Nash had not been driven for one year. Zada and Nettie are on good terms (no apparent animosity). William was a self-employed carpenter and contractor, having previously been an employee for another firm/person as a carpenter. He was providing about $45 a week to his wife for food and clothing for the family prior to the accident and had enough work lined up at this point to last through the summer. The family lived in Gloversville. It was a nice day, and they were enjoying a Sunday drive with no particular place in mind to go. The accident occured near the automotive repair garage of John S. Boh in the hamlet of Morehouseville.

According to newspaper accounts of the accident and subsequent trials, Nettie's father died within a few minutes of the accident and her brother died the next day at the Herkimer Hospital. Nettie's license was revoked in early May 1931.

Zada won a verdict totalling $7,600 for negligence. It was upheld in the Court of Appeals. The jury for the original trial consisted of John W. Davis, Henry Buchanan, Burdette C. Green, Benjamin Youker, Stewart hayes, Charles B. Ostrander, Charles Allen, Herman B. Richards, Emmett Brown, John Ostrum, Arch Dunham and Oliver Mowrey. Maurice Hanson of Johnstown, was excused when it was learned he was a stockholder in an insurance company writing auto accident insurance. The trial took place in october of 1931.

Nettie's mother, also named Nettie, won $4,000 for her injuries and to cover expenses of the estate of her husband. This trial took place in May of 1933.

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