Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury...

Last week was the week of no sleep.

It started over a year ago, June 15 to be exact. That's whenNorm, a friend of mine, received a letter alleging defective workmanship in the repair of an aircraft engine that later developed recurring problems that led to further very expensive repairs. No accident, no crash. No damage to the twin Cessna. No one hurt. Just a trashed engine.

The owner hired an "expert" to investigate and do a failure analysis. The expert did a shoddy job of investigating and documenting, then wrote a report based on jumped-to conclusions. It was a terrible report with confused words, sentences that did not logically follow, conclusions not based on a systematic cause-effect relationship. Worse, the so-called expert alleged that the engine damage resulted from an out-of-balance crankshaft but misunderstood the readings and units of measure from the balancing machine that derived the numbers.

My friend asked if I could help. I had expertise in all the required areas. I wrote a preliminary report. The case turned into litigation, a civil suit for damages, $91,000 to be exact.

I wrote a second, much longer and more detailed report. I documented everything, set it out as I would in an engineering report, did computations. The other side didn't give my report the time of day. They didn't even bother to depose me before trial.

"He's never given testimony in court before," they must have thought, "we'll blow him away in minutes."

Last week was the trial. It went 2.5 days. I was the last witness to be called. On cross- examination, the plaintiff's attorney tried to demolish me, not on the basis of my report but on the basis of my not being a pilot with 7,000 hours of flying experience. As if that had anything to do with whether I understood the guts of engines. I do. I take the job of fixing them and giving FAA approval to repairs very seriously.

As if lives depended on it. They do. Those lives could be mine. They could be yours or those of someone you love.

It was an exhausting weekend before trial, inspecting parts on a Saturday in the lawyer's driveway instead of in a shop, parts we should have seen weeks earlier. Sunday, I had three worship services to be a part of. Monday was trial preparation. Tuesday the trail began. I slept little the night before the first day of trial. After some fallacious testimony by the other expert witness, I did not sleep at all before the second day of trail. I was the last witness to be called at the end of the day.

I was exhausted. There were many things I wanted to get done during my testimony that it seemed we did not have time for. I left the stand, after being attacked by the other attorney, feeling defeated.

But I had shown the jury something, something they could understand. They understood. They got it.

There was more back and forth on the final day. There was rebuttal testimony by the other expert in which he did not refute what I had shown but only dug his hole deeper.

Then, closing arguments, jury instructions and waiting. The plaintiff needed to have the jury accept their case as a preponderance (at least 51% of the evidence), and the jury of nine would have to be unanimous.

I was exhausted and dozing on the MAX train when the word came back from my clients:

WE WON, 9-0!

I came away with a whole new understanding of the story of David and Goliath. I had gone into the courtroom against a giant, dead tired and without so much as my slingshot. So I thought.

Our side went in as people of integrity, people telling the truth. We left the courtroom the same way. Even if we had lost the case, we would still have had that.

But the jury saw the truth and rewarded it. Justice was done. Sweet justice.

Best of all, my friend who is 68 is retiring. He had just sold the business to his younger brother before the trial. Tomorrow morning, he and his wife leave on a five-week vacation across this country, seeing our beautiful land, visiting aviation colleagues from coast to coast and many places in between.

Norm hired me 32 years ago. It was 32 years to the day this past MOnday that I first arrived in Oregon and pulled into the parking lot a Troutdale Airport. What a sweet fulfillment that Norm and his wife are able to embark on this vacation truly free of the ill-founded lawsuit and its mental and financial burdens.

Many people were praying for us and for me. Only one thing to say to that:

Thanks be to God!


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