Jerry Summers: Settling A Death Case

  • Thursday, October 6, 2022
  • Jerry Summers

(Relax advertising lawyers, this article isn't about your alleged expertise and “Best” claims).

Bert Vincent wrote a regular column for the Knoxville-News-Sentinel for over 35 years “Strolling” which reported on events and individuals in his beloved Appalachian Mountains.

In his 1968 collection of said tales, “The Best Stories of Bert Vincent, Sage of the Smokies” he repeated a story told by a late Knoxville lawyer that included a discussion about “settling damage suit cases out of court and avoiding expensive lawsuits.”

The owner of the short line railroad route between Knoxville and Maryville had a vehicle hit a farmer’s wagon, killing him and his team of mules and breaking the wagon into smithereens (Southern for small broken pieces).

Rather than hiring an expensive lawyer to defend the claim the owner decided to try and settle the case himself and took his claims agent with him to talk to the surviving widow and the story is told of the negotiations that followed:

“They found her sitting on the porch of the old home. He introduced himself and introduced his claim agent. He explained why they had come, to see what could be done about the unfortunate mishap.”

Then he began, “Now, the wagon,” he said, letting his glasses down on his nose, and looking over them at her, “I understand it was ruined.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed the widow.

“How much was the wagon worth?” he asked.

“Well,” she said, “We bought it at Post & Co. in Knoxville two years ago. And it cost $50. It was a good wagon. I think it ought to be worth at least $25.”

“Put it down at $30,” he said.

Then he asked about the harness. She said it was a good harness, and that it cost $60, and it too, ought to be worth half of what it cost.

“Put it down at $40,” said Mr.____

He asked about the mules. She said one was a good mule. They could have sold him for $200. Said the other was an old mule, and she thought he ought to be worth $75.

“Put down $275 for the mules,” said Mr. ____

The agent wrote it down. Mr. ____ then came to the big question. He said:

“Martha, I know no amount of money will repay you for the loss of your husband. It is with deep sadness that I talk to you about him. But, I must ask you how much you think we should pay you for his death.”

The widow studied a moment. She said:

“Mr.____, bein’ you’ve been good ‘bout payin’ for the wagon – more than I asked, an’ the harness, an’ the mules - payin’ me more than I asked for everything. Bein’ of that, Mr. ___, I just can’t take anything from you for the death of Bill.”(husband)

(The name of the column was “It Pays To Be Liberal”.)

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You can reach Jerry Summers at


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