Wolff v. District of Columbia
196 U.S. 152 (1905)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wolff v. District of Columbia, 196 U.S. 152 (1905)

Wolff v. District of Columbia

No. 62

Argued November 11, 1904

Decided January 3, 1905

196 U.S. 152

Syllabus

An object which subserves the use of streets need not necessarily be considered an obstruction, although it may occupy some part of the space of the street.

The duty of a city to specially illuminate and guard the place where an object is depends upon whether such object is an unlawful obstruction. Under §§ 222 and 233, Rev.Stat., District of Columbia, the District is not prohibited from permitting a stepping-stone on any part of the street because it is an obstruction per se, nor is the District required to specially illuminate and guard the place where such stepping-stone is located.

Page 196 U. S. 153

This is an action for damages for injury caused to plaintiff in error (who was also plaintiff below) by an alleged negligent omission of duty by the District of Columbia.

On the twenty-seventh of October, 1895, about nine o'clock in the evening, plaintiff had occasion to visit Sangerbun Hall, a house on C Street in the City of Washington. On coming out, and for the purpose of approaching a wagon which was standing in the street, he walked rapidly across the sidewalk and, by falling over a block of stone called a stepping stone or carriage step, which was on the sidewalk near the curb, broke his leg. Sometime subsequently he was compelled to submit to its amputation.

The charge against the city was that it was a body corporate and municipal, and had the power, and it was its duty, to keep the sidewalks free of obstructions and nuisances, one of which, it was alleged, said stone was. And further, that it was the duty of the District of Columbia to keep the streets properly lighted. In neglect of both, it was alleged, it did "allow and suffer" the stone to be securely fastened into and remain upon the sidewalk, and did "keep and continue" it there during the nighttime of the twenty-seventh of October, without a light to show its presence or a watchman to notify wayfarers of its existence. Damages were laid at $25,000. The District of Columbia pleaded not guilty. A jury was impaneled. At the conclusion of the testimony, the District moved the court to instruct a verdict for it on the ground that the plaintiff had not made out a case. The motion was granted, and a verdict in accordance with the instructions. A motion for a new trial was made and denied, and the case was then taken to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judgment of the court below. 21 App.D.C. 464.

Page 196 U. S. 155

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