This week’s case brings us up the Hudson River to the bank-side Village of Nyack, New York. The Nyack real estate market was in the news last February (2018), when celebrity Rosie O’Donnell sold her home there for a little over $5 million dollars. But one house in the quiet village has a dark history. This case is about a haunted house. A real one.
This is a case about hiding “the truth” in a business deal.
Jeff was house-hunting when he came upon 1 LaVeta Place in Nyack, an impressive Victorian sitting right on the bank of the Hudson. That is where Helen lived. Helen and Jeff got along well as he was shown the property and he fell in love with Helen’s home. Jeff and Helen signed a contract for the sale and purchase of the house.
Before the closing date, Jeff took a trip up to Nyack to start getting acquainted with the town. While speaking with some of the locals, Jeff discovered something very troubling to him: THE HOUSE WAS HAUNTED. Jeff immediately called his lawyer and directed the lawyer to get him out of the deal. Jeff’s lawyer called him back and told him that Helen would not call off the deal. Jeff directed his lawyer to sue Helen for the return of his down payment and to cancel the purchase of the house.
Testimony of Helen Ackley
Q: You knew the house was haunted before you bought it yourself, isn’t that right Helen?
A: Yes. I knew. Some kids from the neighborhood told me it was. I’m not afraid of ghosts.
Q: Are there ghosts in that house at 1 LaVeta Place.
A: Definitely. At least three – a married couple; and, a Navy Lieutenant from the American Revolution.
Q: And there was a book written about those ghosts?
A: Yes: Sir George, The Ghost of Nyack.
Q: Did you ever see Sir George?
A: Yes, sir: Sitting in midair, watching me paint the ceiling in the living room, rocking back and forth…I was on an 8-foot stepladder.
Q: Did you say anything?
A: I asked if he approved of what we were doing to the house.
Q: What did he say?
ATTORNEY: OBJECTION: HEARSAY!
COURT: Counsel, please. OVERRULED! Please answer the question.
A: He smiled and he nodded his head.
Q: In fact, you wrote about that close encounter.
Q: And you had it published in Reader’s Digest, right?
A: Yep; and the local Nyack papers.
Q: And in the Reader’s Digest article you wrote about spirits waking up your daughter for school?
A: Yes. Like it says in the article, the spirit would wake my daughter for school by shaking the bed. When she was out of school for Spring Break, my daughter would shout before going to sleep that she did not have school the next day.
Q: And what happened the next day?
A: The next day, the bed did not shake.
Q: Now, Helen, you never told any of this to Jeff before you signed the contract of sale, did you?
A: Nope. Didn’t have to.
ATTORNEY: OBJECTION! Move to strike everything after “Nope.”
COURT: SUSTAINED as not responsive to the question.
Testimony of Jeff
Q: Are you afraid of ghosts.
A: Terrified! You ever seen the movie Poltergeist?
Q: Would you have entered into the contract to buy 1 LaVeta if you had known the house was haunted.
Q: Were there any other problems with the house?
A: None. It was perfect as far as I or the inspectors could see. But I don’t want to live in a house that is haunted. And it is haunted.
Q: Did you ever read Reader’s Digest?
A: No. I never read that magazine.
The Court’s Ruling
The Court, on appeal, ruled that Helen, having reported the ghosts’ presence in the magazine and newspapers could not then deny their existence in court. Therefore, “AS A MATTER OF LAW, THE HOUSE IS HAUNTED.”
Jeff got out of the contract and he got his money back.
Here is the case: https://casetext.com/case/stambovsky-v-ackley