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Catterson v. Brooklyn Heights R. Co.

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division

May 7, 1909

CATTERSON
v.
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS R. CO.

Appeal from Special Term, Kings County.

Action by Patrick Catterson against the Brooklyn Heights Railroad Company. From an order dismissing the complaint, and denying plaintiff's motion for a new trial, plaintiff appeals. Reversed.

[116 N.Y.S. 761] Adolph L. Pincoffs, for appellant.

George D. Yeomans, for respondent.

Argued before HIRSCHBERG, P. J., and GAYNOR, BURR, RICH, and MILLER, JJ.

BURR, J.

Upon the trial of this action, after a jury had been impaneled, but before any evidence had been introduced by the plaintiff, the court dismissed the complaint upon the ground that it did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. Upon such a motion, not only must the complaint be liberally construed (Code Civ. Proc. § 519), but such construction, so far as matters of form are concerned, must be in favor of, and not against, the pleading. Coatsworth v. Lehigh Valley R. Co., 156 N.Y. 451, 51 N.E. 301; Rochester R. Co. v. Robinson, 133 N.Y. 242, 30 N.E. 1008; Howe v. Hagan, 110 A.D. 399,97 N.Y.Supp. 86; Naylor v. N.Y. C. & H. R. R. R. Co., 119 A.D. 24, 103 N.Y.Supp. 966.In the Coatsworth Case, supra, the court said:

" Under the more recent authorities pleadings are not to be construed strictly against the pleader, but averments which sufficiently point out the nature of the pleader's claim are sufficient if under them he would be entitled to give the necessary evidence to establish his cause of action."

In the Howe Case, supra, and the Naylor Case, supra, this court has followed this rule, making use of the same language. Under the complaint in this action the plaintiff could prove that the defendant was a street railroad corporation operating its cars through Graham avenue, in the borough of Brooklyn; that on the 7th day of August, 1906, the pavement on Graham avenue within two feet of the tracks of the railroad [116 N.Y.S. 762] company was being repaired; that some of the paving blocks had been taken out, leaving large holes in the pavement; that on the date mentioned plaintiff's wife, having an infant child in her care, was a passenger on a car of the defendant, which came to a full stop at the corner of Graham avenue and Driggs street; that plaintiff's wife alighted, and while in the act of taking her infant child from the car, without any fault on her part, her foot slipped into one of the above-mentioned large holes in the pavement, causing her to fall; and that she thereby sustained injuries. He could also prove that the defendant knew that the pavement was being repaired, and the condition of the street in consequence thereof, and omitted to give the alighting passenger any notice or warning that such pavement was being repaired, and that there were large holes in such pavement as a consequence thereof. Upon such proof being made it would be for the jury to say whether the defendant exercised due care to give the plaintiff's wife a reasonably safe place to alight. This it was the duty of the defendant to do, or to warn her of existing danger known to it. Wells v. Steinway R. Co., 18 A.D. 180, 45 N.Y.Supp. 864; Wolf v. Third Avenue R. R. Co., 67 A.D. 605, 74 N.Y.Supp. 336; Flack v. Nassau Electric R. R. Co., 41 A.D. 399, 58 N.Y.Supp. 839; Onderdonk v. N.Y. & Sea Beach R. R. Co., 74 Hun, 42, 26 N.Y.Supp. 310; West Chicago St. Ry. Co. v. Cahill, 64 Ill.App. 539; Bass v. Concord Street Ry. Co., 70 N.H. 170, 46 A. 1056.

The duties and obligations of a common carrier to exercise reasonable care to secure the safety of the plaintiff's wife did not terminate at the moment when she had alighted from the car, but continued until she had a reasonable opportunity to take her infant child from the hands of a fellow passenger, who was handing it to her. McKone v. Mich. Central R. R. Co., 51 Mich. 601, 17 N.W. 74, 47 Am. Rep. 596; Jeffersonville, etc., R. R. Co. v. Riley, 39 Ind. 568; Tobin v. Portland, etc., R. R. Co., 59 Me. 183, 8 Am. Rep. 415. It was not necessary to allege in the complaint the exact size of the hole nor the exact distance from the track. These were evidentiary facts. It was enough to allege that it was less than two feet from the track, and that it was sufficiently large to cause the passenger to fall, when without fault on her part she stepped into it. It was not necessary to allege that it was dangerous. That could be inferred from the fact of the fall as a consequence of stepping into it. The allegations of the complaint respecting the conduct of the defendant in bringing the car to a stop in close proximity to this large hole in the pavement, and in omitting to warn the plaintiff's wife of its existence, is followed by the allegation that " the accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant." This is equivalent to saying that the act and the omission above referred to was a negligent act and omission.

The judgment and order appealed from should be reversed, and a new trial granted, costs to abide the event. All concur, except GAYNOR, J., who dissents.

GAYNOR, J. (dissenting).

It is trite that there can be no complaint for negligence without an allegation of some negligent fact, i. e., some fact causing the injury, and alleged to be caused by the negligence [116 N.Y.S. 763] of the defendant. There is no such allegation in this complaint. It is alleged that the defendant ran a car line " along Graham avenue" ; that the pavement on the said avenue within two feet of the car tracks was being repaired-by whom is not alleged-and that there were large holes therein " where some of the blocks had been taken out" ; that the car on which the plaintiff's wife was a passenger stopped at the corner of the said avenue and another avenue; that she got out, and that while " taking up her child," who had been handed out of the car by another passenger, " her foot slipped into one of the holes" already mentioned, which caused her to fall; that the fact that said pavement was being repaired was known to the defendant; and that it failed to give the plaintiff's wife any notice or warning of the condition thereof. There is no other allegation of fact-this is all. No act of the defendant or of any one else is alleged as negligent; nay, no act at all of the defendant is alleged. Nor is any omission by it alleged, except that it did not notify or warn the plaintiff that the street was being repaired. But it is not alleged as a negligent omission; and the condition of the street was in full sight, and there is no allegation that the plaintiff did not see it or know it.

It is said that under these allegations the plaintiff could prove that the repairing was going on and the condition of the street therefrom, that her foot slipped into one of the holes, and that the defendant knew the repairing was going on and the condition of the street and omitted to give the plaintiff warning or notice thereof; and that upon such proof being made " it would be for the jury to say whether the defendant exercised due care." But that is begging the whole question. The jury could not be permitted to do any such thing unless the complaint contained the necessary allegation of negligence; and the very point before us is whether it does. If it does, of course it would be for the jury to find whether there was negligence; but if it does not, the case could not get to the jury at all.

The said allegations are immediately followed by this general allegation, " and that said accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant, its agents or servants." This does not make a complaint for negligence. It alleges no fact of negligence. There is no such thing as an allegation of negligence except by an allegation of some fact causing the injury, and alleged to be caused by the defendant's negligence. Are we to hold otherwise in order to save this slovenly and stupid complaint, when our method of pleading is so simple? Ignorance in our profession does too much harm to be encouraged. Are we to say that a bald allegation that the " accident" -and moreover an accident is never actionable-" was caused by the negligence of the defendant," makes a good complaint, and that it is not necessary to allege the fact that caused the injury and that it was caused by the defendant's negligence? It would be contrary to the uniform rule in trial courts from the beginning. ...


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