On Saturday at Hertfordshire Winter Assizes, a journeyman butcher, named Albert Edward Reeve, sued his late employer, Oliver Costin, butcher, of Park Street, near St Albans, for damages for injuries sustained through the negligent driving of a horse and trap, whereby Reeve was thrown out and sustained a broken thigh and other injuries.
Mr Ronald Walker said the plaintiff was engaged by the defendant at a wage of 28s. per week. On November 3 last he was entitled to his weekly half-holiday but the defendant asked him if he would take him for a drive in the afternoon. He agreed, and at 2.30 took the horse and trap round, and the defendant and his little daughter got in and they drove to a farm in the neighbourhood, which is the defendant’s property.
The defendant was rather upset and annoyed about something which happened there, and whilst they were driving along the road from the farm to the highway the plaintiff had frequently to complain about the way his master was driving, and said to him: ‘Where are you driving to?’ and the defendant replied: ‘I’m driving to hell’. (Laughter) ‘But he didn’t get there’ said counsel, ‘he got pitched out of the trap instead’. (Renewed laughter).
His Lordship: ‘We will adjourn for luncheon before we get any further’. (More laughter).
On the resumption of the proceedings Mr Walker said the defendant admitted that the trap was overturned, but denied that it was due to his negligence; he contended that it was due to the plaintiff’s putting his hand on the reins and pulling the horse on to the bank.
In his evidence the plaintiff described how the accident happened. Mr Costin turned too sharply out of the field on to the road, and the wheel of the cart went up the bank and all three occupants were thrown out. He had his left thigh broken, and did not remember anything after that until he was in hospital. His leg was now healed, but it was one and a half inches shorter than the other, and he had to walk with a stick. His spine was also affected. It was impossible to resume his occupation as a butcher.
The defendant had offered to pay his full wages if he would go back to work and give him £30 damages for his injuries, but he was absolutely unable to lift anything. All he did now was light work for Lady Yule, near St Albans. The defendant had paid him half wages up to the time of this action, the total amount he had received being £26.
Bernard Clark, Owen Walker, and William James Wright, who saw the accident, swore that the plaintiff did not touch the reins.
Dr May, of St Albans, stated that the plaintiff was permanently incapacitated except for light work.
For the defence, Dr Boys, of St Albans, was called, and he admitted that the plaintiff’s leg was short and that he would always have to walk with a stick.
The defendant, in his evidence, said his was a shy, sprightly mare and had taken prizes; and she had to be handled very carefully. On the day of the accident as he was driving out of the gate from the farm, the plaintiff put his hands on the reins and that caused the mare to swerve on to the bank and overturn the cart. In cross-examination, however, he was not prepared to stick to this statement, and said he he felt almost sure that the plaintiff touched the reins.
The Judge in summing up said there was a prima facie case of negligence on the part of the defendant, and the only question they seemed to have to decide was whether the plaintiff contributed to the accident by touching the reins.
The jury decide that the plaintiff did not interfere with the reins, and gave a verdict in his favour, assessing the damages at £120.
His Lordship gave judgement for that amount of costs.