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U.S. Supreme Court

District of Columbia v. Moulton, 182 U.S. 576 (1901)

District of Columbia v. Moulton

No. 221

Argued April 9-10, 1901

Decided May 27, 1901

182 U.S. 576


Park Street is a public highway in the northwest section of the City of Washington. For some days before the accident which was the ground of this action, a steamroller had been used in connection with the work of resurfacing the street with macadam. This roller became disabled, and was placed close to the south curb of the street, a canvas cover was placed over it, and it was left therefor two days. On the second day, the horse of the plaintiff in error, being driven along the street, became restive from the flapping of the canvas cover, reared, and upset the vehicle, and threw out the plaintiff, injuring him. Held that the District of Columbia was not liable for the injuries which the plaintiff so suffered. chanrobles.com-red

Page 182 U. S. 577

This action was begun by the defendant in error in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. In substance, he asserted in his declaration a right to recover from the District of Columbia a specified sum upon the ground that, by its negligence, on November 26, 1896, he had sustained serious personal injury. The negligence averred consisted in this -- that, for a space of two days prior to and including the date named, the District had negligently and knowingly left upon a public highway known as Park Street a large steamroller, which was calculated to frighten horses of ordinary gentleness, and while plaintiff was driving along said street, with due care, in a carriage drawn by a horse of that disposition, the animal was frightened and rendered unmanageable by the steamroller, and in the struggles of the horse, one of the wheels of the carriage was broken, plaintiff was thrown out upon the ground with great force, and he sustained the injuries for which recovery was asked. Defendant filed a plea of the general issue.

The evidence most favorable to the contention of the plaintiff tended to show the following: Park Street is a public highway in the northwest section of the City of Washington, commencing at Fourteenth Street and running westwardly. For several days prior to the accident in question, a steamroller had been used in connection with the work of resurfacing Park Street with macadam. This roller was of the kind usually employed in constructing macadamized gravel roads. It had three wheels, the tread of the rear wheel being about eight feet, which was its extreme width. The machine was about eight feet long and about five or six feet high. The smokestack was a little higher than the other part of the machine. While the roller was in use, on the forenoon of the day before the accident hereinafter referred to, it "broke down." The nature of the injury to the roller does not appear otherwise than as it may be inferred from the fact that the roller was subsequently removed by horse power, that the machinery was simply disabled. On becoming out of order, the roller was placed close to the south curb of Park Street, from twenty to fifty feet west of Pine Street -- a street fifty feet in width -- and distant about nine hundred feet westwardly from Fourteenth Street. Over chanrobles.com-red

Page 182 U. S. 578

the roller was placed a canvas cover. The roadway proper at the point where the roller was stationed was about twenty-eight feet wide, and there was ample room for the passage of vehicles between the roller and the northerly side of Park Street.

About 3 o'clock on the afternoon of November 26, 1896 (Thanksgiving Day), plaintiff drove into Park Street from Fourteenth street, and, as he did so, saw the steamroller. The horse he was driving was one which the plaintiff had owned for several years, was regarded as of an ordinarily gentle disposition, and had several times been driven safely past steamrollers when they were in actual operation. Plaintiff guided his horse, intending to pass by the roller in the space to the right thereof, but on approaching Pine Street, the horse became restive from the flapping of the canvas cover on the roller, or from some other cause, and when about opposite the middle of Pine Street, became unmanageable, reared, and upset the vehicle, throwing out and injuring the plaintiff. The evidence also tended to show that other horses. in passing the roller. had exhibited fear.

The case was tried to a jury, and resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff. On appeal, the judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the District. 15 App.D.C. 363.


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