For anyone that has sat inside a courtroom during an active case, you would be familiar with the deafening silence of anticipation. Nobody speaks, everyone is waiting for the judge to finish reading the litany of information from a thick white folder. Every now and again you would hear the turning of a page. Is he on the final chapter? Is he going to look up? Why is it, in the dead silence of the courtroom, your throat chooses that moment to be itchy as all hell? You can hear a pin drop let alone some commoner in the back of the room clearing their throat in a megaphone. It happened to me on the day Paul’s liability case went to court. I could have clawed my throat that day.
I was somewhat nervous about attending court for Paul’s case. I was no stranger to a courtroom- from being a spectator, a character witness and jury duty to giving evidence in front of a full courtroom and jury. But this was different. I was watching patiently as the two old guys in suits with wigs on, argued their point for the absolution of their client. One on behalf of Paul and the other on behalf of the company that owned the truck that hit Paul that fateful day. As they both read from big, white folders, some quiet banter exchanged between them like old friends on a fishing boat. It was a little strange watching two senior, ageing barristers throw around legal jargon whilst wearing capes and wigs. The rest of us just sat in the back and watched.
We were waiting for the report of two expert engineers. They had to agree on the facts of their individual investigation and submit a single report rather than two seperate reports that were inconsistent. Basically, Paul’s legal team hired one expert engineer. The defence team hired their own. Some facts were the same whilst other facts were a little grey and probably biased towards the client they were chosen by (although they’re supposed to be “independent.”) What took literally hours to submit, the report finally came through. Before I had time to process any of the information being flung at me, the defence team is offering settlement: Paul is 80% liable for the accident.
“Get f********d!” Rang the words in my head in the most Aussiest of Australian accents I could muster. There was no way I was agreeing to that. My face must have said it all for our barrister immediately followed with “I can get him to agree to 50/50 liability.” Still trying to wrap my head around why they thought Paul taking ANY blame in this was a win, I had to take a walk. I was not agreeing to anything until I had time to process it all.
Both expert engineers agreed that Paul had been speeding and could have avoided the accident. They had deemed Paul actions as “contributory negligence.” Whilst he was not completely at fault, he played a part.
For me, the real kick in the guts was being told by the defence team, if I was to reject their offer of 50% liability and insist on dragging it through court, they would make sure that Paul and his family, were left with nothing. They would drag every witness in, every officer, every statement made, into that courtroom. Whilst Paul would have, most likely, won the case, there would be no compensation left to give because it all gets chewed up in legal fees.
In the legal system, there is no emotion. We are all just a number. We are nothing. That was very clear. I took the deal. I wanted it to all be over. Liability could have swung either way- to Paul- to the defence. It does not change anything for me, Paul or our family and friends.
The next morning, I waited for my brother in- law to pick me up for another day in court. The settlement had to be approved by another judge so my presence in the courtroom was necessary. Feeling like the lowest form of shit, if there was such thing, that was me.
I decided to read through that expert engineer report. That day, Friday, 15th July 2016, played out in my head as if I were there. It was like I was being shown a clear vision of the events as they happened. Paul came around the corner on his bike. The truck was slowing down and getting ready to turn into the driveway. The driver takes a brief glance, nobody is coming but he momentarily takes his eyes off the road. Paul can’t see anything up ahead as he turns the corner. It’s a clear run so he accelerates hard until he realises a truck is turning unexpectedly in his path. It’s too late.
In that moment, while sipping on my short black at 6am, I’ve never felt the urge more to bonk two heads together like the guy in the truck and the dude on the motorbike. You bloody idiots.
The judge approved the settlement that day. It was just a formality. But you know what? That judge looked me in the eye and said “Mrs Farnsworth, I’m really sorry for your situation. All the best to you and your family.” Those few words of kindness and emotion meant the world to me.
I still don’t agree on the 50% liability but it was the best outcome I was ever going to get in a shitty legal system. Our lawyers did their job and should be commended.
A special thank you to my courtroom partner-in-crime, Choppy. I could not imagine sitting in a courtroom with anyone else. Stifling laughs and coughs in a quiet courtroom can only be done by the best brother in-laws. Getting lost on the way to the city because we’re talking too much and not paying attention to the road can only be done with people like you. I will be forever grateful for the love and support you have shown to me, Paul and the girls.
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