O'Hara v. Ashford (In re Held's Estate), No. 45681.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtBLISS
Citation300 N.W. 699,231 Iowa 85
PartiesIn re HELD'S ESTATE. O'HARA v. ASHFORD.
Decision Date18 November 1941
Docket NumberNo. 45681.

231 Iowa 85
300 N.W. 699

In re HELD'S ESTATE.
O'HARA
v.
ASHFORD.

No. 45681.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Nov. 18, 1941.


Appeal from District Court, Boone County; Sherwood A. Clock, Judge.

Action at law on a claim for damages for injuries received by claimant in stepping into an open trap door on premises owned and occupied by the decedent, as a store and a home, which door the decedent allegedly failed to properly guard and light. Defendant appealed from a judgment on a jury's verdict.

Reversed.

Doran & Doran and F. Hollingsworth, all of Boone, for appellant.

Dyer, Jordan & Dyer, of Boone, for appellee.


BLISS, Justice.

In 1865, George Held began operating a meat market in a two-story frame building in the town of Boonsboro, now a part of the city of Boone, which business he maintained, excepting for a few years just following 1900, until about 1920. About 1925 or 1926, his son, Elmer Held, became the owner of the business and property, and he and his wife, Bertha, continued the operation of a grocery store and meat market at the same place, until the death of Elmer, in January, 1939. His wife, Bertha Held, then became the owner of the ground, building, and business. Louis Nelson began working for Elmer, soon after he acquired the property, and continued to work for him until 1937 or 1938, when he bought a half interest in the business, stock and equipment. He had no interest in the real property. On the death of Elmer, he and the widow continued to operate the grocery and market as a copartnership in which each had an equal interest. The owners of the property had always lived in the second story of the building. Bertha Held continued to live there, and Nelson also had a room upstairs. He was a single man in his late twenties at that time. Elmer and Bertha had no children.

The proper decision of this case is bottomed almost entirely upon the facts, and it is, therefore, necessary to keep in mind the location of the stairway opening, into which the claimant stepped.

[300 N.W. 700]

The building was on the southwest corner of the intersection of West Third and Fremont Streets. It was about 75 feet long on Fremont Street and faced north on West Third Street. It was 20 feet wide, east and west. There was an east and west partition in the building dividing it into two parts, and making the south, or rear room, about 18 feet, north and south, by 20 feet, east and west. The larger or north portion of the building was used for the grocery store and meat market. The only door between the two rooms was at the extreme west end of the partition. When George Held owned the property, he had an outside entrance into the basement. There was a basement with a seven foot ceiling under the entire building. Shortly after Elmer acquired the property, he put an inside entrance into the basement. This entrance and stairway into the basement was in the very southwest corner of the north room, or store proper, just north of and parallel with the partition, and three or four inches from it. The stairway opening was covered by a trap door in the floor, five feet long, east and west, and thirty inches wide. It was hinged at its west end, a few inches from the west wall of the building. The handle to raise it was at the northeast corner of the door. When the door was raised, the stairway opening was 23 inches wide. The head of the stairs was at the east end of the opening. It will be noted that this trap door, or the opening, was just north of and in front of the partition door. This partition door was 32 inches wide and 7 feet high, and the west edge of the door frame was 3 feet from the west wall of the building, so that the east end of the trap door came just about to the east side of the partition door frame. When the trap door was closed, it was a part of the floor used in passing through the door from one room to the other. When the trap door was open, as it occasionally was, anyone passing through the door simply stepped across the 23 inch opening, except Bertha Held, who was badly crippled with sciatic rheumatism, and blind in one eye, and who, as stated by Nelson always “took two hitches at it,” by stepping down on the first step of the basement stairway, and then up on the other side.

In the basement was the furnace, and the motor, or cooling unit, of the refrigerator, and the cooled display counter, upstairs. The basement was also used as a storage place for surplus stock.

The smaller, south, back room had a rear door in the middle of the south wall of the building, with a window on each side of the door. There was also a window in the east, and in the west wall. In the southwest corner of the room was a table or bench used in making sausage. Over at the south end of the east wall was a gas stove and a sink. About the middle of the north, or partition, wall, and against it, was a desk. West of the desk, and between it and the partition door, was a vinegar barrel, raised about a foot so that its contents could be drawn off through a spigot at the bottom. About the center of the room was a dining room table. In this room most of the meals of Mrs. Held and Mr. Nelson, who was called Louie, were prepared and eaten.

Nelson, Mrs. Held, and a helper operated the store and market, except as additional help might be needed on Saturdays, and other busy days. Mrs. Held did most of the book work at the desk in the back room, and helped to wait on the customers.

As one went through the partition door into the north room, immediately to the right or east, two or three feet, was a large icebox or refrigerator. To the north of the refrigerator a few feet was the meat counter. The grocery stock was on each side and to the front of the room. To the left of the partition door, as you came into the north room, was a wooden door, without glass, opening onto Fremont Street. To the north of this door, and 10 feet from the trap door was a window 40 inches wide, and about 6 feet above the level of the ground. In closing the store and in opening it, Nelson or Mrs. Held left or entered by the back door at the south end of the building, in order to use the more direct and convenient, inclosed outside stairway to the second story.

The location and character of the windows is of no particular materiality since the accident occurred at 9:00 o'clock at night. The artificial lighting in the north room, where the business was conducted, is also unimportant with the exception of one light near the west wall, above and just to the north of the trap door, with a cord to pull it on and off. The artificial lighting in the rear room is important. There were three electric lights, without question, and maybe a fourth one. None of them had shades. They are spoken of as 60 watt and 60 candle power lights. Each operated on a separate switch. There was

[300 N.W. 701]

one in the southeast part of the room near the gas stove and sink, and away from the east wall. Another was over the sausage bench in the southwest part of the room. A third light was over and just back of the desk, and about five, or six, or seven feet from the partition door. The dining room table was placed a short distance south of the desk. Mr. O'Hara testified to a fourth light over the table. The claimant also spoke of it but later in her testimony said there was no light there.

The claimant was a daughter of George Held and a full sister of Elmer. She was born and raised in Boone, and was thoroughly familiar with the store. After finishing a business course, she kept the books of account for her father, waited on the trade, and did other odd jobs about the store and market, for seven years before her marriage about 1902 to a locomotive engineer in the employ of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company. They lived in Boone until 1914, when Mr. O'Hara was transferred to Clinton, Iowa, where they have since made their home. Mr. O'Hara was retired on a pension in July, 1937. During all of their married life, they returned many times for visits at Boone, and this was particularly true after his retirement. During these visits, they stayed at and enjoyed the hospitality of the Held home in the store building. Their relations with Elmer and Bertha Held were the most cordial. Four times after the death of Elmer, in January, 1939, the claimant, accompanied by her husband on some or all of these occasions, visited Bertha Held in her home. She stayed ten days on her Memorial Day visit. She spent the first two weeks of August, 1939, with Bertha. She testified that Bertha was not in good health. She was always one of the family when a guest in the Held home. She made herself useful about the place-waited on customers in the store-helped Bertha with her cooking and housework. The household victuals, customarily put in a refrigerator, were kept in the store refrigerator. The claimant many times had gone to this refrigerator to put in or take out milk, cream, butter, and other food for the table. She and her husband had eaten many meals in the back room downstairs. She knew where every electric light, and its switch was. She knew when the inside basement stairway and trap door were put in, more than 12 years before, and was familiar with the manner of its use. She had been in the basement many times. She knew that the switch which turned on the light in the basement was just above the stairway at the west side of the refrigerator. She was 63 years of age, weighed 142 pounds, in good health, and was, as she testified, “a poor specimen for a doctor.” When she was in the Held home, she was not employed and received no compensation, other than the entertainment and hospitality of the home, and the opportunity to renew acquaintance with old Boone friends. When she was in the Held home in the first half of August, she learned that Louie wished to take his vacation, and she returned from Clinton on August 26, 1939, to be with Bertha in his absence, particularly so she would not be alone nights. Louie had arranged for a...

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5 practice notes
  • Anderson v. Holsteen, No. 46938.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 21, 1947
    ...that directly contributed in any manner or in any degree to his injury. Lang v. Kollasch, 218 Iowa 391, 255 N.W. 493;In re Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 100, 300 N.W. 699, and cases cited; Richards v. Begenstos, Iowa, 21 N.W.2d 23. We may assume, though not so holding, that defendant was neg......
  • Reuter v. Iowa Trust & Sav. Bank, No. 48192
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 10, 1953
    ...'failure to exercise ordinarily care to remedy the unsafe condition caused by Page 228 the accumulation of ice and snow'. Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 300 N.W. We think the trial court was correct and that the judgment should be and is affirmed. Affirmed. SMITH, C. J., and WENNERSTRUM, MULR......
  • Anderson v. Younker Bros., Inc., No. 49330
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 6, 1958
    ...involving like holdings by this court, see Shreve v. Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 243 Iowa 237, 50 N.W.2d 26; In re Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 300 N.W. 699; Reuter v. Iowa Trust & Savings Bank, supra, 244 Iowa 939, 942, 57 N.W.2d 225, 227; Webber v. E. K. Larimer Hardware Company, 234 ......
  • Prestype Inc. v. Carr, No. 57628
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 15, 1976
    ...no basis in the record for the trial court's finding the value of the sales representative's assistance was $750. In In re Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 97, 300 N.W. 699, 705, is the '* * * We have many times said that verdicts cannot and must not be based on guesses or conjectures. Many cas......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Anderson v. Holsteen, No. 46938.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 21, 1947
    ...that directly contributed in any manner or in any degree to his injury. Lang v. Kollasch, 218 Iowa 391, 255 N.W. 493;In re Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 100, 300 N.W. 699, and cases cited; Richards v. Begenstos, Iowa, 21 N.W.2d 23. We may assume, though not so holding, that defendant was neg......
  • Reuter v. Iowa Trust & Sav. Bank, No. 48192
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 10, 1953
    ...'failure to exercise ordinarily care to remedy the unsafe condition caused by Page 228 the accumulation of ice and snow'. Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 300 N.W. We think the trial court was correct and that the judgment should be and is affirmed. Affirmed. SMITH, C. J., and WENNERSTRUM, MULR......
  • Anderson v. Younker Bros., Inc., No. 49330
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 6, 1958
    ...involving like holdings by this court, see Shreve v. Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 243 Iowa 237, 50 N.W.2d 26; In re Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 300 N.W. 699; Reuter v. Iowa Trust & Savings Bank, supra, 244 Iowa 939, 942, 57 N.W.2d 225, 227; Webber v. E. K. Larimer Hardware Company, 234 ......
  • Prestype Inc. v. Carr, No. 57628
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • December 15, 1976
    ...no basis in the record for the trial court's finding the value of the sales representative's assistance was $750. In In re Estate of Held, 231 Iowa 85, 97, 300 N.W. 699, 705, is the '* * * We have many times said that verdicts cannot and must not be based on guesses or conjectures. Many cas......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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