Today's blog post is brought to you by my friend Bert. Bert is in his first year of law school at the University of Utah, and he came across a Shakespeare reference in one of the cases he was reading.
The case is Cordas v. Peerless Transportation Co., a case in New York City Court in 1941.
Here's the story behind the case: Mugger #1 and Mugger #2 mug Helpless Victim at gunpoint. Helpless Victim then chases Mugger #1 and Mugger #2. Mugger #1 jumps into a cab to escape, and points his gun at Cabbie. Cabbie decides he wants to get away from the gun and jump out of the cab. After he jumps out, the cab keeps moving and hits Lady. Lady later sues the cab company.
Pretty crazy, huh?
So, the court decided that Cabbie did what any normal person would do, and that it's not his fault the runaway cab hit Lady. It was an emergency situation, so Cabbie wasn't guilty of negligence.
Anyway, if you read the court case, you can tell the judge had a lot of fun writing the decision:
"[The chauffer] states that
His uninvited guest
Boarded the cab at 25th Street
While it was at a standstill
Waiting for a less colorful fare;
That his ‘passenger’ immediately
Advised him ‘to stand not upon
The order of his going
But to go at once’
And added finality to his command
By an appropriate gesture
With a pistol addressed to his sacro iliac.
The chauffeur in reluctant acquiescence
Proceeded about fifteen feet, when his hair,
Like unto the quills of the fretful porcupine,
Was made to stand on end
By the hue and cry of the man despoiled
Accompanied by a clamourous concourse
Of the law-abiding which paced him as he ran;
The concatenation of ‘stop thief,'
To which the patter of persistent feet
Did maddingly beat time,
Rang in his ears as the pursuing posse all the while
Gained on the receding cab
With its quarry therein contained.
The hold-up man
Sensing his insecurity
Suggested to the chauffeur that
In the event there was the
Slightest lapse in obedience
To his curt command that he, the chauffeur,
Would suffer the loss of his brains,
A prospect as horrible to an humble chauffeur
As it undoubtedly would be to one
Of the intelligentsia.
The chauffeur apprehensive of
Certain dissolution from either Scylla, the pursuers,
Or Charybdis, the pursued,
Quickly threw his car out of first speed
In which he was proceeding,
Pulled on the emergency, jammed on his brakes and,
Although he thinks the motor was still running,
Swung open the door to his left
And jumped out of his car.
He confesses that the only act
Was that by which he jammed the brakes
In order to throw off balance the hold-up man
Who was half-standing and half-sitting
With his pistol menacingly poised."
The judge goes on to explain that Cabbie did what anyone would do, including certain Shakespearean characters:
"If a person is placed in a sudden peril
From which death might ensue,
The law does not impel another
To the rescue of the person endangered
Nor does it condemn him
For his unmoral failure
To rescue when he can;
This is in recognition of the immutable law
Written in frail flesh.
Returning to our chauffeur.
If the philosophic Horatio
And the martial companions of his watch
Were ‘distilled almost to jelly with the act of fear’
When they beheld ‘in the dead vast and middle of the night’
The disembodied spirit of Hamlet's father
Stalk majestically by ‘with a countenance
More in sorrow than in anger’
Was not the chauffeur,
Though unacquainted with the example
Of these eminent men-at-arms,
More amply justified in his
Fearsome reactions when he was
More palpably confronted by a thing of flesh and blood
Bearing in its hand an engine of destruction
Which depended for its lethal purpose
Upon the quiver of a hair?
When Macbeth was cross-examined
By Macduff as to any reason he
Could advance for his sudden despatch
Of Duncan's grooms he said
In plausible answer
‘Who can be wise, amazed,
Temperate and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man’.
Macbeth did not by a ‘tricksy word’ thereby
Stand justified as he criminally created
The emergency from which he
Sought escape by indulgence
In added felonies to divert suspicion
To the innocent.
However, his words may be wrested
To the advantage of the defendant's chauffeur
Whose acts cannot be legally construed as
The proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries,
Unless nature's first law is arbitrarily disregarded."
If I'm ever a judge, I hope I write cases that way. That would be awesome!