After a Sunday brunch shift at the restaurant, I headed over to The Evergreen Grill for a grading party with four other teachers. Grades are due this week sometime (though they, typically, haven't given us the due date yet and probably won't until the last minute), and we're all English teachers so we're all swimming in essays right now. It's so easy to make little rules for yourself - "I swear, I'm going to limit myself to just three comments per essay" - but they never seem to stick. I got through one of my six classes.
It was the first time I've been at Evergreen Grill in a couple of years, ever since my ex-Principal stood me up there while I was being sued. See, my ex-Principal (the guy who was three principals ago) was a lawyer, and he agreed to meet with me about my case on a Saturday morning in April. He never showed up, and I sat there for about an hour in a whir of laptops, coffee, and bagels. Later, he told me he had forgotten. A few weeks later, I was sitting in a courtroom, defending myself without a lawyer against a $10,000 lawsuit brought forward because my dog had jumped on a garbageman in my backyard after my roommate had let him out.
I can't believe it's only been two years since that case. So much of it seems surreal, like it happened to a different person. Losing the case probably would have resulted in having to claim bancruptcy, and an end to my life as I know it, but I never really doubted that I would win, even though I couldn't afford a lawyer (cheapest offer to take my case: $1500). So much of the case seemed ridiculous - the fact that this guy wasn't bitten, and that doctor reports afterwards stated there were no teeth marks, the fact that his lawyer wouldn't contact me about a settlement, the fact that I wasn't home at the time of the incident, the fact that the guy was trespassing on our yard without permission, and, then, the kicker, the fact that the guy suing me, Clarence Weston, was a slumlord and criminal - that I couldn't see myself losing.
The actual trial was unbelievable. It was a balmy day in May, and I had to take a day off from both teaching and coaching to defend myself. In preparation, I composed a list of questions for both Weston and myself that I went through in court. I asked my questions of myself in the third person, something that amuses people when I tell them (and, in truth, it sure did feel funny to do, but I wanted to highlight the fact that I couldn't afford a lawyer). My father stood with me for moral support and added some questions of his own.
The resulting decision from the judge hinged on something I didn't think was as important as the other facts in the case. I won because I wasn't home, and my roommate - who accidentally let the dog out as he stumbled out the back door to see what the ruckus the garbageman in back was fussing about (turns out, our trash was too heavy) - was not working as my legal agent. I didn't win for any of the reasons that I felt were more obvious - because the guy wasn't bitten (according to the judge, any injury he would have gotten as a result of running from my dog, I'd be liable for, so the rip in his jeans from the fence and his medical expenses would have been on me), or because the guy lied (he claimed head injuries, then explained that line in court by saying he meant "I'm hurt in my head because now I'm scared of all dogs" when clearly he meant physical injuries in the paperwork. But that paperwork appearently did not have be sworn in paperwork), or because the guy was trespassing (he somehow convinced the judge that he was on the way to our back door), or because he had no business being there (apparently garbage collectors can go wherever the hell they want). I won because I wasn't home. Weird. I figured I was responsible for my dog whether I was home or not. But, in the end, it doesn't matter why I won. I'll take it. The good guy won.
Hopefully that's the last time I'll ever be sued.
From the archives:
Acting like I know what I'm doing on March 20, 2004.
Meeting with a lawyer on April 12, 2004.
Winning the case on May 4, 2004.
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