March 07, 2016
It could only happen in Brooklyn. Judah Abraham, a Bavarian merchant, met Sarah Sussman on his way to America in 1837. Six years later, Abraham Abraham was born. Though he wanted to be a violinist, Abraham had a knack for the dry goods business. At 14, he was working in a dry goods store in Newark (it must have been some store; his co-workers were guys by the name of Bloomingdale and Altman.) By 1865, he had opened his own store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Later, Abraham would form a mercantile partnership which became Abraham & Straus, occupying buildings covering some seven acres of downtown Brooklyn. At the turn of the century, Abraham was not only a civic leader and a non-sectarian philanthropist, but a friend to mayors (Gaynor) and Pres- idents (McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft) alike. He entertained at his beautiful home on St. Mark's Avenue or at his summer retreat in the Thousand Islands.
So, when the Court of Appeals in 1904 was faced with Josephine Kline's lawsuit against Abraham Abraham, it was not without context. Josephine worked as a shopgirl in Abraham & Straus' palatial store on Fulton Street. The store had a new marble stairway leading from the first floor to the basement, which was opened to the public around Christmas, 1897. Josephine, an Assistant Cashier, worked in the glove department at the top of the stairway. Twice each day, Josephine used the stairway to go to the Cashier's Office to turn in her money. She took her cash-
box with her, tucked under one arm, and her receipt stamp, which she placed in her other hand.
In April 1898, with her hands too preoccupied to grasp the rail, Josephine walked down the stairway to the final landing, some five or six steps from the bottom. There, as she stepped off the landing to the next stair below, Josephine slipped, injuring the "rudimentary bones" at the end of her spinal column, i.e., the coccyx.
At trial, witnesses attested to the fact that the marble steps were as "slippery as ice", as "smooth as glass" and were "highly polished." Defendants argued that while the marble was "smooth" it was not "polished." Moreover, that was a "cus- tomary finish in general use" in buildings where marble was used.
Plaintiff showed that numerous others had been injured by slipping on the stairway. Defendants countered, saying that there were only seven such accidents, while "thousands" of persons used their store everyday and those people had lots of accidents, maybe 500-600 per year. They wrote them all down in a book. While Defendants had been advised to put rubber treads upon the stairs, and the cost of doing so, "such treads had not, at the time of the accident, been adopted."
At the close of Plaintiff's case, Defendants