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Monday, May 09, 2005

a strange death pt. 2

You can read part 1 two posts down.

I had been working offshore in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland and England for several months on my first overseas contract when I got a message from the company headquarters in New Orleans. It seemed that there was a lawsuit that had been filed by John's family citing wrongful death and negligence on the part of the company. I wasn't aware that it had even been filed until that moment. The man had died on the job almost 2 years previous and I had put the entire episode out of my mind. The message said I had to be inshore and that I would fly back to New Orleans and be there for the court dates. An entire week in New Orleans, paid and with all my expenses covered to boot! It was like an awesome vacation invitation except I might be called in as a witness in the state court of Louisiana. The company had no choice but to ensure that I was there for the trial in case I was called upon.

I flew in and I was not given any instructions except for what dates and times I had to be there and just wait outside of the courtroom in case I was called. Of course the first thing I did was visit family and friends because I showed up on the weekend and made myself ready for court that Monday morning. When I arrived I was brought into a meeting with the lawyers in the DA's office and given the statement that I had written 2 years before the day of the death. It was scrawled on a yellow legal sheet in my own handwriting and I was sort of dismayed that it had been filed and now put before me in such a way. It looked worn like it had been viewed many times over and over again. I was told to read it over and to make sure everything that I had written was to the best of my recollection. I did so, but now looking over it I wondered how accurate it was regarding the blur of events and it seemed ok so I handed it back. I suddenly realized that I may be a key witness and this of course got me very nervous.

The first day of the trial passed and I wasn't called, I just anxiously waited in a nearby room. I had to wait till the 2nd day to get the whole mess out of the way and It turned out to be a very strange and unusual situation to be in. I was still very nervous as my name was called and I made my way thru the huge room. I had not been inside until that moment and it was very strange seeing all those faces looking at me as I walked in, some I knew most of them though were new to me. It was easy to spot the family, the wife was dressed in mourning clothes and held a tissue to her face. I thought it odd she might be mourning so hard 2 years later but I decided it must be for show to the jury.

The bailiff swore me in and I took my seat in the witness stand and the plaintiff's attorney started questioning me. His questions sometimes seemed out of line to me and he seemed to be trying to make me look like I did not know what I was doing on the job the night of the mans death. In other words trying to make me look stupid because I didn't use certain technical terms in my handwritten statement. One thing he seized on in particualr was that I used diving jargon in my statement to describe some of the equipment instead of the precise technical terms. One in particular was that I had used the words decompression chamber in my statement to describe what is technically known as a hyperbaric re-compression chamber like I didn't know the difference between the two. I did know the difference, but he tried to make it appear that I did not.

I was very young of course and hell I was only 21 at the time of the trial. The only training I had ever received was within the company itself and they deemed me fit to do the job that was given to me. He would ask a question and I would try to elaborate on what I meant on my statement. This made him angry and he asked the judge if he could treat me as a hostile witness. The man was intent on making me look as undertrained and irresponsible and incapable of doing my job as he posssibly could. Maybe his entire case hinged on making me appear to be incompetent which of course would put the company at fault for any damages that I "might" have done as far as improper care for the deceased diver during the mans death. Being a hostile witness meant that I could only reply with yes or no answers, with no elaboration whatsoever. This made me angry of course and I think that's what the asshole was trying to do all along. In trying to defend myself it just made me seem foolish and at the mercy of this bastard that was a part of suing the company because the man had a heart attack. I suffered thru a few more of his stupid questions and I was finally allowed to leave the stand.

The next day I arrived not sure if I was going to be called upon again and I was in the hallway outside the courtroom. After a time passed I was approached by one of the company lawyers and was told to go home, the case had been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum with the company admitting no wrong doing. I had the distinct feeling that the plaintiff's lawyers had also had a field day shooting down the dive contollers statements and the so called dive doctors statements as well. The company had caved in to save embarrasement and the deed was done. The family presumably got wealthy over a natural heart attack and the company lost it's ass.

The entire ordeal left a sour taste as I realized just how much of what I had done that day and night was scrutinized over and over again as though I had something to do with causing the man to die. I didn't like it of course but I was able to use what I learned a few years later in another situation involving 2 divers that died on the job. Two friends of mine that suffered needless deaths and it would haunt me unless I could find some way to prevent that from happening again.