My father taught me how to drive on a standard shift 1953 Chevy. “Just remember where the brake is,” he told me. He was a better teacher than driver. His fender-benders were legendary in Sullivan County.
Around 1918, after the United States became involved in the Great War (now known as World War I), he and his two brothers had a partnership in Claremont called “B. Steinfield’s Sons.” I think they were in the junk business, now known as “recycling”. He always told me it was a great business but that I should become a lawyer. That way, he said, “anytime you feel like it, you can close the door and go fishin’.” I’ve always thought that was an interesting way to look at the profession I eventually entered.
Starting this month, I’m taking his advice and closing the door on Wednesday afternoons to do something else – not to go “fishin’” but to teach a course at UNH (formerly Franklin Pierce) Law School in Concord. The other day, just out of curiosity, I checked to see whether my father was ever involved in any New Hampshire lawsuits.
Sure enough, he was. And wouldn’t you know, it had to do with an automobile accident. According to the official New Hampshire Supreme Court Reports for 1920, an unidentified “partner” of B. Steinfield’s Sons failed to apply the brake soon enough and ran into a man named Dean. Dean sued, and the partnership paid the amount awarded by the court. My father asked his automobile insurer to reimburse him for the amount paid, but the insurer refused to do so. My father then sued the “Massachusetts Bonding and Insurance Company” on the theory that he was a partner in the business and therefore personally responsible for the partnership’s debts. The court agreed, referring to the driver in its opinion as “the one who was driving the machine.”
There’s more to the story. The insurance company still didn’t want to pay and claimed my father should have sued within 90 days, as required by the insurance policy, and not waited four months or so after the partnership paid Mr. Dean. This produced an entirely separate opinion in the bound Supreme Court reports for 1921. My father won again, this time under a 1918 federal law called the “Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Relief Act.” My father was in the Army during most of the four months after payment to Mr. Dean, and that period of time, the Court ruled, doesn’t count.
My father never told me about this case, or about the time my grandmother Bertha took on Monadnock Mills for flooding her property – and won! You can read about that case in the 1923 reports. As for Mr. Dean, the Court doesn’t identify which of “B. Steinfield’s Sons” drove the car that hit him. I think I know.