Oh what a fucking ordeal this turned out to be. (Wait a second. That sounds familiar. Didn't I just start a post like that? Are all subsequent blog posts gonna start like that? Well, only if they turn out to be a fucking ordeal... like this one.)
It began way back in 2009. That's right – this tale is six years in the making, However, I didn't become aware of it until a year later. But wait – I'm getting ahead of myself.
In 2010, I received a letter from an attorney informing me that this was my final warning. As far as I was concerned, it was also my first warning, as I had not received any previous correspondence from this particular lawyer. I quickly skimmed the letter and my attention was grabbed by such legal-jargon words as "negligence," "fault," and a few more fearsome-sounding Latin ones. Although the return address was in Philadelphia, I was not familiar with the particular law practice. The letter, upon closer scrutiny, recapped an incident that (allegedly) occurred on my property the previous winter. A seasonal employee of the United Parcel Service was (allegedly) attempting to make a delivery to my home. Because of the nature of my wife's business, she receives assorted sized packages of merchandise at our home on a regular basis. (Before you jump to a conclusion of an illegal operation, Mrs. P operates an eBay store and sells a variety of legitimate merchandise.) The UPS employee, who I'll call Miss Menteuse, was carrying a stack of boxes and (allegedly) tripped on my driveway. The letter went on to brandish the words "damages," "restitution" and several others that could all be punctuated by the greedy "cha-CHING" of a nuisance lawsuit.
I immediately called my insurance company. I explained about the letter to my agent's assistant*. She listened attentively, taking down details, asking a few questions including for a copy of the letter. I followed that call with one to my local police department. I asked if any reports of an accident had been filed about my address in the past year. Police records were checked and my answer was negative. So, I figured I'd just let my insurance company handle it. After all, that's what I pay insurance for, right?
So that was that. Wrong!
A little over a year later, I was contacted by mail by a new lawyer. This one was contracted by my insurance company to represent me. The letter explained that I would most likely have little or nothing to do regarding a pending lawsuit and that everything would be handled between my insurance company and their office. This letter was just informational. So, I filed it under a stack of papers on my nightstand and forgot about it.
Until I received the next letter, many, many months later. This one requested (demanded?) an appearance by my wife and me at a deposition. Mrs. P and I were to be questioned informally, but on the record, about the (alleged) incident. Furious, I arranged for a day off from work. My wife and I trekked out to a corporate campus in the western Philadelphia suburbs to "our" attorney's office. Here we got to meet the (allegedly) injured Miss Menteuse for the first time, nearly three years after her (alleged) "episode on our driveway. We also had the pleasure of meeting her legal representative – a shifty, slimy, hairy-knuckled shyster in an expensive-looking pin-striped suit. He looked like an extra in a B-movie Godfather rip-off and spoke like those slick ambulance-chasers you see on afternoon TV between The Price is Right and Judge Judy. A court reporter sat poised to document every word and the questions began.
Miss Menteuse's attorney produced a wrinkled legal pad from his weather-beaten briefcase and kicked things off by calling me "Mr. Menteuse."
I corrected him. "Pincus," I said.
"Huh?," he replied, as though he had never heard either name before. Realizing his error, he over-apologized and explained that, of course, his client's name was "Menteuse" and it was an honest mistake.
|Caution! May cause |
And that's pretty much how it went. This distracted, fourth-rate Clarence Darrow hammered me with elaborately-phrased scenarios that evoked both confusion and impatience from me, my wife and my attorney. He often prefaced a question with "Now, I'm not trying to trick you.," accompanied by a leering, toothy grin. Each time, it was quite obvious that he was trying to trick me. Eventually, Miss Menteuse recounted, to the best of her apparently-rehearsed recollection, the events of December 2009. She told how the boxes she was carrying were piled way past her eyes, blocking her line of vision. She explained that she, indeed, walked all the way up to my front porch and decided not to scale the two steps, instead opting to seek alternate access to my front door. She then walked backwards to the sidewalk, and admittedly, without checking the path in front of her, crossed my narrow driveway and fell. As she rubbed her (alleged) injured ankle, she looked around and surmised that she had caught the heel of her work boot in a small, uneven piece of paving – a small, time-eroded imperfection that had been in that condition for the twenty-five years I have owned my house. Then, Miss Menteuse launched into a sob story, touching on (alleged) unemployment, being a single parent (allegedly), (alleged) constant pain and the (alleged) impaired ability to function properly as a productive member of the human race. All delivered with the gut-wrenching emotion of Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice. However, there was nothing wrong with her that an award of fifty thousand dollars wouldn't cure.
Several tedious hours later, we were dismissed from the proceedings. Our attorney confidently speculated that this whole matter would come to some kind of settlement before it would reach an actual court date. My wife, whose greatest concern was that we would be in jeopardy of losing our house, was assured that was an impossibility. This was more of a thorn in our insurance company's side. Relieved, we thanked him and headed home.
But it was far from over.
Another year has passed when we received a letter, once more, requesting our presence at a non-binding arbitration. I called our attorney for a translation of the "legalese" of the letter, of which his office was copied. He broke it down in layman's language. A panel of three impartial attorneys would hear both sides of the case and make a decision of either dismissal or a monetary award. The decision, however, could be appealed, in which case, another settlement could be attempted or it would go to trial. A case of this nature, according to our attorney's experience and speculation, would be dismissed by any sane judge.
We soon found ourselves in the sterile, corporate surroundings of municipal building in the county seat. Three gentlemen in dark suits introduced themselves as the arbitration committee and informed all parties that they were ready to proceed. The entire deposition was reenacted for the benefit of the committee, with Miss Menteuse's attorney, once again, showing off everything he learned from Perry Mason reruns. Miss Menteuse offered her testimony first, tinging her answers with sorrow. In addition to her belabored account of the (alleged) incident, she told an irrelevant anecdote about a family vacation to Niagara Falls that seemed to baffle all present. When it was my turn in the hot seat, I repeated my statements from a year ago nearly verbatim (it was the truth), as Mrs. P sat behind me with the most forlorn look on her face. And once again, we were dismissed.
Another year's passing brings us up to the present. It turns out that the three-person panel fell for Miss Menteuse's tale of woe and deemed me an uncaring slumlord who had neglected the upkeep of his property for twenty-five years until it fell into an unsafe state of disrepair. They felt that the sum of thirty-two thousand dollars would make everything all better. Miss Menteuse's attorney felt otherwise and filed an appeal one day after the committee's findings were tendered. It seems either he or his client were not satisfied with the amount of the reward. So, after many months, another arbitration was agreed upon. This one will (allegedly) be it – final! binding! winner take all!
Once again, we were to meet on neutral grounds – this time, an attorney's office in downtown Philadelphia. Mrs. P and I arrived at 8:30 in the morning – forty minutes early for our appointment – only to be informed that the schedule was changed and the session would take place in the afternoon. We left and I returned alone, after being told that Mrs. P would not need to be present. For the third or fourth time (I lost count), the story was told. The boxes, the neglect of my property, Miss Menteuse's carelessness, my disregard for human life, her pitiful, struggle-filled existence – all the drama and pathos for a brand new, singular audience. Miss Menteuse's weaselly little legal representative was blatantly disinterested. He never put down his cellphone, he shuffled through an unorganized stack of papers, he tripped over words and couldn't recall dates or events. He told everyone that over the course of the last year, Miss Menteuse had lost an adult daughter in a fire (it was irrelevant to the case and was only used as a sympathy ploy), then went on to compare her pain from the fall to that suffered by someone who had been in a fire. His closing statement rambled on and on, still trying to get me to admit that my driveway is a deathtrap. Finally, the proceedings ended and, after some deliberation, the solo arbitrator would give his decision withing the week.
I received an email from my attorney. It was a summation that read like the recap of a long round of Deal or No Deal:
In today’s mail I received the arbitrator’s written opinion. He found the plaintiff 49% negligent and you 51% negligent for this incident. He determined that her damages were worth $26,000. However. based upon the reduction for her 49% the net award to the plaintiff is $13,260.She and her lawyer essentially fucked her out of thirteen thousand bucks.
So, after six grueling years of paperwork and (alleged) doctor visits and depositions and arbitration, Miss Menteuse will end up with (after her slime ball attorney takes his cut) approximately $8000. I hope she's happy. Now that this is all over, I know I am.
*In over thirty years, I think I actually met my insurance agent only once.