Harry Gray v White and Black Rivers Bridge Company was a lawsuit brought before the Lawrence Circuit Court in January 1931.


According to the complaint, Harry Gray was a passenger in a Ford Model A Coupe on January 14 when they attempted to cross the suspension bridge that crossed the Black River at Powhatan. There was snow and ice covering the bridge's wooden flooring. In addition, the bridge climbed at an arc of twenty degrees. Gray claimed that both he and the driver were "without fault and carelessness." Even so, the car slid on the ice and crashed into the bridge barrier, which then broke. The car plummeted forty feet to the ground. The driver, Ed Hertz, was killed.1 Gray suffered six broken ribs, a fractured skull, several contusions around the head, heart, and legs. In addition, "his nervous system was so shocked and weakened that he has no control whatever of himself and he is now in a nervous and trembling condition...because of his injuries, he has been constantly confined to his bed in a hospital and under the constant care of doctors and surgeons and trained nurses, and he will continue to be so confined and under such treatment for the remainder of his life." 


Gray accused the White and Black Rivers Bridge Company of willful negligence. He said the bridge was poorly designed, built with cheap, faulty materials and that the company was not performing the necessary maintenance to keep the bridge safe. He demanded $65,000 in compensation. His lawyers, Richardson & Richardson in Hoxie, filed the complaint on January 17. Richardson & Richardson then recruited another lawyer, J.C. Childers, to help prosecute the case. However, Gray moved to Lorimer, Iowa, presumably to recover from his injuries. R&R tried to contact him several times, but received no replies.

Then, on December 26, R&R filed a petition against Gray. They accused him of meeting secretly with representatives of the bridge company and their insurers, Southern Surety Company in New York, and settling the claim for $7500. This was in violation of a lien R&R put on Gray's claim, entitling them to fifty percent of any money he received as compensation. The petition includes a contract, signed by Gray, which meant that R&R was fraudulently deprived of $3750 for their services. Harry Bovay, president of the bridge company, was summoned to testify. He maintained that neither he, nor any of his employees knew of such a settlement, as all such cases were handled by the Southern Surety Company, per their insurance agreement.


A document dated January 1932 reveals that the bridge company paid Gray $300 if he would absolve them of liability. Attached is a handwritten note from Gray stating he had received the money in Iowa and agreed to the terms. Meanwhile, J.C. Childers and R&R were awarded $150 each for their services. The bridge company was ordered to pay all court costs related to the case, which amounted to $12..55.  


Bridge Folder, Powhatan SP Archives

1 "Car Plunges 100 Feet of Road, One Killed." The Courier News. January 15, 1931. p.1 Harry Gray injured in car crash at bridge.pdf