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Aviation Insurance
Friday, February 1, 2002
Wasting time

Wednesday dawned promisingly. It was cold and wet, just the day to go to court to battle the enemy and hopefully win the day.

The case concerned alleged negligence by a pilot who ignored standard take-off procedures, and this resulted in injuries to the passengers when the aircraft crashed. The insurers had refused to settle out of court and so the whole lot, Charter Company, aircraft owner, pilot, insurers and brokers, were dragged into court to face the passengers’ lawsuit.
Mistily we meandered with mazy motion to the hallowed halls of the Pretoria High Court. Our party consisted of Piet Jagger, an Advocate whose stature was in inverse proportion to his brazen cheek and Mike Sidewinder, attorney at law for the practice of Crouch Down and Watchet Inc., renowned for lightning mood swings coupled with a hidden switchblade, and assorted hangers on.
Merrily we gathered in the gloomy passageways to meet the legal teams of the plaintiffs, the first defendant and the six or seven other defendants and also the third party defendants who lay thick on the ground like a bad storm of dandruff.
First the Roll is called. This involves a few hundred assorted legal entities, Advocates galore, assistants by the dozen, attorneys all over the place and a few lost souls who would be expert and not so expert witnesses. The drums rolled and in stormed the Head Honcho, technically known as the Judge President. He seemed to be chosen for his august and complex duties and for his inability to comprehend anything that was going on.
All his duties consisted of was to call each case up, see if the parties were present and then allocate them a court and a judge. Obviously in his previous life this JP had been an usherette in a down town bioscope.
After an aeon or two we were allocated court 4b and a judge whose reputation made Judge Jefferies appear warm and concerned with humanity. I could only hope that being an expert witness, in a matter of damages following an aircraft accident, did not necessarily involve the death penalty.
Now the full majesty of the law became apparent for all to see. We were in the hallowed portals for some eight hours. We never got into the court, the judge remained caged behind the scenes.
Seated on the hard wooden benches that the Palace of Justice deems good for the legal soul, I watched in amazement as the legal teams ebbed and flowed up and down the corridors, seeking conversation with each other, some apparently happy to converse with themselves. Not a bad idea, actually, as there was not much sense to be obtained elsewhere.
The corridor is liberally sprinkled with notices, exhorting one and all that smoking is bad for you and against the law. It was intriguing to perceive the ultimate guardians of the law puffing away like demented railway engines on a cold morning. Jackie Selebi could have a field day with half an hour in one floor of the High Court.
It seemed that no one really wanted to face up to the Judge, so frantic attempts were being made to reach a settlement. One wonders why this Herculean effort had not been made the day before. First of all one attorney would sidle up to another and whisper something. It must have been a good joke because that attorney couldn’t wait to break off and rush to an advocate who was staring into space.
The corridor of the Palace Of justice took on the appearance of a stagnant pool at the seaside as the tide is coming in. The flotsam and jetsam of legal eagles swung back and forth like so much detritus on the face of the waters.
“An offer is on the table.”
“How much?”
“Dunno, but I think it came from Glug Tumour for the insurance company.”
“Nah. His attorney, Pair Norty, wouldn’t ever allow an offer.”
In between this fascinating negotiation, legal men would swoop like vultures on other teams, trying to hi-jack witnesses. Bomb Pistorius heaved his not inconsiderable bulk at our team and clawed like a frustrated bandersnatch at our star witness, Milly Curls. Sidewinder leaped in, eyes flashing and caveats sprouting from every orifice. “No, Bomb, you shall not have her,” he cried in desperation; “she’s mine for all time.”
“Not so!” gravelled the doughty Bomb “If I want her, I shall have her.”
“OK,“ said Sidewinder – but then savagely added, “If you want her, you must have me too.”
I listened in amazement at this exchange that was reminiscent of George and the Dragon on an off day.
Then as the day drew on, more and more talk was made of offers to settle.
The Plaintiffs agreed to drop but Glug wanted Sidewinder to pay in a couple of hundred grand. “No way!” said Sidewinder. Jagger wandered off muttering. The oily waters became ruffled, the tempo increased until we noticed Glug making for the exit followed by Pair Norty.
“Where are you off to?” cried Sidewinder.
“Its been agreed’ gurgled Glug.
“Like Hell,” said Sidewinder. “I have to get the OK from my principals.”
“You will,” muttered Glug and disappeared into the advancing gloom.
Sidewinder told us he was going to look into this and rushed down the smoke filled corridor and trapped Jagger kicking and squealing against a wall.
When he returned he told us that indeed an agreement had been penned, and that we had been entered for two hundred thou. Milly and I saw red and Sidewinder tried to contact the Main Man at Grim, his principals, but he was at lunch, a position he was to occupy for the next few hours.
“Good idea,” said Sidewinder, “let’s go and eat.”
After six or seven coffees Sidewinder managed to make contact with someone at Grim, I think it was the janitor. He returned to Court to find Jagger cheerfully writing out the settlement, having sent the judge packing.
“Jags, old fruit,” cried Sidewinder “We haven’t agreed, and the truth is we won’t.”
“Stap me!” bellowed Jagger “I am really in the stew now. Glug has buggered off, so has nearly every one else. I can’t tell the Judge - he will sacrifice me at the next full moon. Let’s dicker.”
So dicker they did and after a terrifying 15 minutes a final agreement was hammered out. Sidewinder signed and it was over.
As the darkness fell – actually, in Pretoria it doesn’t fall, so much a sneak up on your blind side – we wandered back to Egoli wondering why all this could not have been done before. In the hazy gloom behind us we could hear the faint sounds of cash registers ringing as the legal boys and girls prepared their accounts for a day in court that took a lifetime but never got to court, although 30 people spent all day at court.
Who was it that said, “The Law is a Hass!”? Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, that’s who. Observant fellow. By Henry Tours

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:15.1 1st February, 2002
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