BY W.H. LAWRENCE
One of our accident cases involved what must have been the first use in the Philippines of moving pictures as evidence. A Spaniard claimed to have broken his leg by tripping over a defect in the pavement between the rails, an area for whose upkeep the company was responsible, and to have been left so crippled that he could walk only by help of a cane and with great pain and difficulty. He made a pitiful appearance in court and his account of his suffering was distressing. But we ambushed him with a camera, and court sat in a projecting-room to see the plaintiff walking briskly with his cane over his shoulder. We had taken in Rhode Island the deposition of an ex-policeman who testified that the plaintiff had taken his fall in stepping off the curb, and plaintiff’s veracity was so impeached by the pictures that the court accepted the deponent’s account of the accident and gave judgment for defendant.
There was a suit by a countryman who had been knocked down by a carromata which was struck and pushed onto the sidewalk by a streetcar. We admitted liability and the only issue was over the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. He had been taken by ambulance to hospital, and Van Hoven’s report showed that he had walked unaided from ambulance and from elevator to a first-aid station on the second floor. When I cross-examined I asked him: “How did you get from the ambulance to the room where the doctor bandaged you?”
“I don’t know, Señor.”
Van Hoven assured me that his report had been correct and suggested that the interpreter might be at fault, so I tried again.
“You remember that the ambulance stopped at the door of the hospital?”
“Was the room where the doctor bandaged you on the ground floor or upstairs?”
“Well, how did you get upstairs to that room?”
“Truly, Señor, I don’t know; I went into a little room and the door was closed, and when the door was opened I was upstairs, and to this day I can’t understand it.”
An elderly Australian lady went sight-seeing while her ship was in Manila, and rode to the end of the Pasay line, where the conductor moved the fare register from one end of the car to the other, reversed the seats, and otherwise prepared for the return trip. When the lady reentered the car after a short stroll the fare register dropped on her head. She went to hospital for a few days, her ship sailed without her, and she stayed in the hotel until the next ship on her route came along. We had no defense, and I told Van Hoven to see that she was well cared for and then to make the best settlement he could and get a release. He reported that she intended to make no claim, was willing to sign a release and would accept no compensation. I called on her and had to persuade her that she was embarrassing Van Hoven and me before she would take a modest payment to make the release good. She said the company had been perfectly lovely to her, had paid the doctor and the hospital and the hotel, and had even sent her flowers; she had enjoyed a visit in Manila which she would have missed if she hadn’t met with the accident, and she thought that any obligation was hers rather than Meralco’s.
When Taal Volcano blew up in 1911 the Germinal tobacco factory rushed relief supplies to the stricken area. Mrs. McCoy, president of the S.P.C.A., sent an agent named Sharpe to survey the needs of domestic animals. Sharpe was injured or became ill, returned pronto to Manila and entered a hospital, where he talked to a reporter and said that the municipal officials were misappropriating Germinal’s rice.
Sharpe had convicted the manager of Germinal for docking his horses’ tails. Seeing a chance to get even, the manager persuaded an offended president to prosecute Sharpe for criminal libel. The case came before Judge Crossfield and I was retained (without fee) by Mrs. McCoy to defend. The fiscal proved everything except that Sharpe had intended or expected publication; I made no defense; decision was reserved.
A few days later Judge Crossfield talked with me. “Lawrence, if I convict Sharpe I suppose you will appeal.” I said, “Yes, and you will be reversed.”
“I guess so, and then these people will prosecute for injuries under the Penal Code and the judge will have to impose a jail sentence.”
“Sharpe would plead jeopardy.”
“Of course he would, but I’m not so sure it would stick. I think you might let him pay a reasonable fine for being stupid; the president could say he was vindicated, and that would be the end of it.”
I said: “I think you’ve got something there, and if the penalty is a fine of not more than, say, fifty pesos, I don’t believe Sharpe would appeal.”
Sharpe was convicted, fined fifty pesos, and took no appeal.
A Filipino policeman burned his hand on a wire which, in the course of a repair job, had been carelessly left hanging within reach and had become charged. The burn was not serious, and Van Hoven made a fair settlement in the hospital and took a release. Later the wound became infected with tetanus, the curative injections injured a nerve, and the man was left with a permanently crippled arm. He sued Meralco; we pleaded the release, and he failed to impeach it. We could not afford to let precedent of avoidance of a release be established, but the consideration had turned out to be so grossly inadequate that, after the dismissal of the action became final, Meralco bought the man a farm in his home province.
A group of children prowled on Isla Provisora, investigated a box, and carried off some detonators. The oldest, an American boy, tried to explode them by various means and finally succeeded, with loss of an eye. The case went to the Supreme Court after a substantial judgment against Meralco in First Instance. We were disappointed in having the Supreme Court adopt the principle of the “Turntable Cases” and hold that it was applicable, but plaintiff’s counsel, to augment damage, made such an impressive showing of the boy’s intelligence that we got a reversal on the ground that he was capable of contributory negligence. By the way, counsel and trial court always had difficulty, in cases where contributory negligence was proven, with a decision of the Supreme Court in a personal injury case against Atlantic, Gulf & Pacific Co.; the learned court held that plaintiff’s negligence contributing to the accident itself was a complete defense, but negligence contributing only to the injury required an apportioning of damages, as in maritime cases. In practice the distinction was difficult and seemed to me impractical.
Shortly before Oscar Sutro left us a Spanish zarzuela company came to Manila and played in the Zorilla Theater. Two young Spaniards from Negros quarreled over a girl in the troupe and found it necessary to fight a duel. The bought two butcher-knives, hired a carromata, and drove out to a convenient zacate field – no seconds, no doctor, no witnesses except the cochero. They stripped to the waist and fought. Presently one was disabled by a slash in the upper arm which severed the main artery; his opponent tore strips from his shirt for tourniquet and bandage, helped the wounded man into the carromata and delivered him to the General Hospital, then known as the Civil Hospital and situated, I think, on Calle Azcarraga, where he died a few hours later.
The victor was brought to trial and was defended by Francisco Ortigas, Alfredo Chicote and Oscar Sutro; the other may have had fee from funds raised by the Spanish community, but I am sure Sutro got none. He was, however, greatly concerned about the case. Barbarous as the duel was, the defendant had acted with a crude chivalry. Moreover, the wound should not have been fatal, and there was evidence of negligence on the part of the hospital and its doctors which aroused Sutro to furious indignation; he contended that his client was guilty of no more than dueling with physical injury, and that criminal responsibility for death lay upon the doctors. The trial court convicted defendant of homicide by duel, recognized extenuating circumstances, and imposed a long term of imprisonment.
An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court. Sutro left the Islands and Chicote undertook the conduct of the appeal, but Don Alfredo was a procrastinator; for a year or more Sutro prodded us and we prodded Chicote before he filed his brief. There was an affirmance, and after a year or two more of imprisonment – Sutro urging us constantly – the governor-general granted a pardon.
The Spanish Penal Code allowed a judge no discretion in the imposition of penalties, and the pardoning power was frequently used in cases where the sentence was disproportionate. We were appointed to defend a man who wanted to bury his child in the parish cemetery, which had been closed after the Cementario del Norte was established. He clumsily altered the burial permit, was convicted of tampering with an official document and sentenced to long years of imprisonment. We went to the governor-general and got a reduction to one or two months.
A Spanish boy in his teens was employed as timekeeper on a construction job, and on payday was keeping the men in line at the pay-window. He carried a stick which he daubed with mud and used to threaten or prod the unruly. One of the men attacked him, was struck on the head with the stick, and died of a fractured skull. Autopsy showed that deceased had a paper-thin skull and the blow would have caused no more than a bruise to a normal head. The boy was convicted and sentenced to a term which we got shortened to a year or two by executive pardon.
When Forbes was governor-general he was very liberal with pardons in cases of adultery, seduction and other sex crimes in which the woman had been willing. He said the country needed more population.
When Ed Block was on vacation from the Iloilo office I replaced him for two or three months. A great part of the work was acquiring right-of-way for the railroad, which was starting construction. One of the engineers, Nick Poynter, had shown a marked aptitude for getting along with the Filipinos and had acquired, in the usual way, a good command of Visayan, so he was assigned to the r.o.w. work, and we soon got a schedule of compensation payments established. For the land we usually began an appropriation action and then negotiated; but we had a regular price for a coconut tree or a mango tree, and for ten or twelve pesos a tenant would assemble the neighbors to pick up his house and move it. We had other clients and I attended court both in Iloilo and in Occidental Negros.
Block had a clerk-interpreter, an American ex-soldier who had a married a native woman; he knew no shorthand but could copy on the typewriter from penciled drafts. I came into the office one day and learned that Bryan of the Iloilo Electric Company had left instructions for drawing a contract. The clerk had tried his hand, and his draft started thus:
“THIS AGREEMENT by and between D. Fulano de Tal, herein called he, and Iloilo Electric Company, herein called it x x x”
During my stay in Iloilo I once accompanied Billy Poland, Chief Engineer, on an inspection trip along the railroad line, then under construction. Up in Capiz we met Poynter, who said he was glad to see me because he was worried about the title of a tract of land; there was only one claimant and he was in undisturbed possession, but Nick thought there was a flaw in the title. He wouldn’t have worried if the parcel were small, but this was five kilometers of right-of-way. “How much does he want for it?” I asked. “Two hundred and fifty pesos,” said Nick, “but of course I don’t expect to pay that much.”
Mention of Iloilo reminds me of a story that Underwood of Ker & Co. told me. When he was manager in Iloilo he went to Scotland on vacation. His train was stalled for two or three days at a small town in Montana by blizzard or landslide, and Underwood found his cash running short. He went to the local bank and presented his letter of credit. The banker examined it carefully, excused himself, and went into a back room. He came back, glared at Underwood, and said: “I have looked at my gazetteer and I can’t find any such place as eyelo-eyelo.”