My great-great grandfather Frank apparently had some pretty good luck in the courtroom. He went to civil court (at least) twice (according to published fact and family lore) and both times won considerable damages in his suits against sizeable corporate bodies.
One of the most storied of Fenning family stories is the story of one of these legal contests. As a girl — I’m not sure how old a girl — Frank’s daughter Anna was struck in the head by a falling chandelier in the Bamberger Department Store in Newark, New Jersey. The story goes that Frank sued Bamberger’s over this injury, and won a settlement generous enough for him to expand his tailor shop from a one-machine business to a six-machine establishment. As for Anna, she went on to marry, have children and live to an old age, but reportedly (according to her brother Harry and, now, her nephew Billy) was never the same again. Whether this is exactly true, or the same sort of teasing jest that leads me to tell my sister she once fell down a well when she has never actually been near a well, remains to be seen.
Of Frank’s other legal case, I have never heard any family tales at all, and indeed, I’m sure I never would have known about it at all if it hadn’t been for a fateful Google Books search for “Frank Fenig,” the pre-1900 version of our family surname. I discovered that in approximately 1899, Frank was on a Newark streetcar operated by the North Jersey Street Railway Co., when he signaled for the conductor to stop. The streetcar stopped accordingly, but while Frank was “in the act of alighting, one foot being on the ground and the other on the car, the conductor signaled to start” the car running again, which it did “so suddenly that [Frank] was thrown violently to the ground and injured.”(1) He sustained injuries whose ill-effects lingered for “some weeks” and kept him “confined to his house” during that time. Subsequently, he sued the North Jersey Street Railway Co. (as did many other parties during this period ) in the Essex County Circuit Court, where a jury awarded him the not inconsiderable sum of $1000 even though he was the only witness who testified regarding the nature of the accident. The North Jersey Street Railway Co., however, was not thrilled by this judgment and appealed the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, who upheld the lower court’s verdict by a unanimous vote on June 18, 1900. I can only assume that Frank did receive the $1000 in damages that he and his family would have found many ways to put to use. As for Frank, I am not sure if he was ever the same again, though I will hazard a yes.
“Fenig v. North Jersey Street Ry. Co.” Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court and, at law, in the Court of Errors and Appeals of the State of New Jersey. Vol. XXXV. (Newark, NJ: Soney & Sage, 1901): 715-716. Available via Google Books.
Reference Department, New Jersey State Archives, email message to Rebecca Fenning, 20 July 2009.