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Mannion v. Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Co.

Decided: January 24, 1941.

ELIZABETH MANNION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
HUDSON & MANHATTAN RAILROAD COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Hudson County Circuit Court.

For the appellant, Collins & Corbin (Edward A. Markley and Charles W. Broadhurst, of counsel).

For the appellee, John A. Lombardi (Joseph F. S. Fitzpatrick, of counsel).

Before Brogan, Chief Justice, and Justices Parker and Perskie.

Perskie

The opinion of the court was delivered by

PERSKIE, J. This is an action in tort. Defendant appeals from a judgment, based on a jury verdict, of $600 and costs in favor of plaintiff.

Although plaintiff had, admittedly, executed a general release of all her claims against defendant, she claimed, in her amended reply, that the release was procured by fraud, imposition and deceit, on the part of defendant's agents, servants and employes.

The single question argued here and requiring decision is whether upon the facts adduced and the proper inferences deducible therefrom, the trial judge erred, as defendant claims, in denying its motion for a directed verdict.

The applicable law is settled. From the written execution of a release, flows the presumption that the party signing the same read, understood and assented thereto. This presumption is conclusive unless the signature was obtained by fraud or imposition practiced upon the party signing, with the intention of deceiving such party as to the purport of the paper signed. McKenna v. Montclair Police, &c., Commission, 121 N.J.L. 206, 209; 1 A.2d 756; Paruch v. Rasiewicz, 124 N.J.L. 356, 359, 360; 12 A.2d 141. Thus when, as here, the defendant pleads a general release as a defense, the plaintiff's attack on such release must be bottomed upon the fraud or deceit of the party who procured its execution and not upon the plaintiff's failure to comprehend the significance or effect of his act in signing it. When such fraud or deceit is shown to have been practiced by the defendant in misrepresenting the contents or the execution of a release, the plaintiff may, in an action at law, avoid its consequences. And when the fraud is in dispute it is a question for the jury. Dunston Lithograph Co. v. Borgo, 84 N.J.L. 623, 625; 87 A. 334; Fagan v. Central Railroad Co., 94 N.J.L. 454, 457; 111 A. 32; Palmer v. Tomlin, 104 N.J.L. 215, 216, 217; 141 A. 2. Each case, of course, necessarily stands or falls upon the particular circumstances involved. In light, therefore, of the stated principles, a statement of the facts, in the case at bar, leading up to and including the execution of the release, and the proper inferences to be drawn therefrom, will demonstrate that the trial judge, as we think, properly denied defendant's motion for a directed verdict in its favor.

Elizabeth Mannion, the plaintiff, was a woman seventy-three

years of age. On September 13th, 1938, while entering the front door of one of defendant's subway trains at its Twenty-third street station, in New York City, the door "snapped" shut and hit the plaintiff on the right arm, crushing her against the left side of the door. On the following morning, while at the defendant's station at Journal Square, Jersey City, New Jersey, plaintiff became sick to her stomach. A policeman employed by defendant company spoke to her and she told him that she was affected by a shaking up which she had received in the subway station the previous day. Upon learning that she had not made any statement of the accident, he promptly took her name and her address and suggested that she go home. Thereafter defendant moved and acted swiftly and astutely. Immediately upon plaintiff's arrival at ...


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