AN ECHO OF THE TARRANT FIRE.
An important decision was recently given by the Supreme court in the case of Eppens, Smith & Wiemann against the Hartford Fire Insurance company. The plaintiff’s claim of $5,000 was denied by the insurance company, whose contention was that the machinery and fixtures contained in a building on the south side of Warren street, Manhattan, New York, and slightly to the west of the Tarrant building, on the northwest side of the street were damaged by the explosion of February, 1901, in that building and that a substantial part of the building in which was the property ruined when the Tarrant fire took place fell betore that property was finally consumed. On the first trial of the case, Supreme Court Judge Amend decided against the claimants. A new trial was granted, which lasted nearly a week. Many firemen, including Chief Croker, deputy and battalion chiefs, testified that the explosion in the Tarrant building had blown down the front wall of the building containing the insured property before that building caught fire. Against these many witnesses all business people in the locality and familiar with the premises in question, gave evidence that the building was burned down, with all its contents, and that it was not damaged by the explosion. As the jury disagreed and was evenly divided, counsel on both sides agreed to leave the decision to Judge Dowling, who decided as follows: (1) That the plaintiff’s property covered by the policy of insurance in question was destroyed by fire and not by explosion, and (2) that no substantial part of the building containing the property so insured fell prior to the destruction of such property by fire. The burden of proof to the contrary lay upon the defendant, who failed in establishing his case, while the plaintiff was successful, and this quite apart from the admission of the defendant that the loss “occurred during the life of the policy. The testimony of the plaintiff witnesses, who were in the coffee house building, as to the conditions therein, and the testimony of those persons residing in the neighborhood as to the time when various portions of the walls of said building fell (adds the opinion of Judge Dowling) corroborated as the latter proof is by the photograph received in evidence without objection, showing the condition of the walls, on the afternoon of the day following the fire, are, in my opinion, decisive of the issue. While the firemen and policemen produced on defendant’s behalf were undoubtedly giving their honest recollection of the conditions they saw, their testimony cannot weigh for much when the photograph, taken on the afternoon of the following day, shows three walls of the building still standing, which had been described by them as being in various degrees of greater demolition on the day of the fire. When they were so obviously and indisputably in error as to three of the walls, their description of the condition of the front wall cannot carry much conviction, especially against the weight of testimony from those more familiar with the normal appearance of the front of this building. It is quite possible that the large amount of glass in the front of the ‘coffeehouse’ building may have created an impression of complete vacancy, where only the glass was gone from the window frames. But, whatever the reason for the discrepancies in the testimony, the photograph has resolved any doubt in favor of the plaintiff on that issue. Judgment for plaintiff in the sum of $5,000, with interest from February 19, 1901, and an extra allowance of five per cent.”