American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 26, 2002
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Until recently, all Mary Mack knew about our court system was gleaned from watching fifty episodes of "Law & Order" each week. In between those, "100 Center Street," "NYPD Blue" and "Judge Judy" filled the gaps. What's to know? You show up, you tell the truth, you step down and walk out, head held high.
Every assumption she had was completely turned upside down when she was giving a deposition in her lawsuit against a construction company for injuries she suffered through their negligence.
Day after day neighbors tried to convince the workers they must clean up before leaving the work site. Unfortunately, none of the workers spoke English.
Hers was an accident waiting to happen as we say, and in spite of her diligence, injuries were severe to her ankle, involving bone, nerve, ligaments, and the entire foot structure. Neighbors said "Sue the SOBs, somebody has to." So, wincing with pain, she called 911 to put the accident on record. She sought medical treatment, gave the reports to a lawyer and was "in the system."
Lawsuits take time, so it was a while before she was to show up and give her side of what happened. In the meantime, she saw "the bone man," followed by "the nerve man," followed by physical therapy to get her back on her feet. The lawyer gave her a check for the doctors before these visits.
As the time for the deposition drew near, she was asked by friends and family if she had written it all down and planned what she was going to say.
"No," she said. "What's to prepare? I remember it as if it were yesterday and all I have to do is tell the truth."
The way she tells me, "The interview went just as it does on television, but that's where any similarity ends. The court transcriber sat there at her keyboard, I was comfortable, sworn in, smiled - and then I was rung out like an old dish rag."
Mary was half laughing at her morning ordeal and half screaming with the frustration of being commanded by the other side's lawyer: "Just answer yes or no."
"Holy cripes," she said. "How can you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth with a yes or no answer?"
This conversation was during our weekly gab fest over how our lives have gone from the days of bobby sox and Frank Sinatra to her widow's benefits and my Social Security. We're so close, I can feel her squirming over the indignities being thrust by that pompous lawyer for the defense. By law, her own lawyer is not allowed by look or manner to advise her in answering. Just tell the truth.
"Did you go to the hospital in an ambulance?" Pompous Lawyer asked.
"No, but... .
"No is enough. So, you did not require an ambulance. Someone drove you,then." Pompous Lawyer said dryly.
"Cripes, that guy made it look like I dashed down the front steps and hopped into the passenger side of the car. They had to carry me down in a damn wheelchair. My foot and ankle were swollen and purple and visibly throbbing. Oh, I was getting hot waiting for his next question."
"Now to the accident itself, Mizz Mack," he droned. This 'crack' you tripped over. Did you trip at the beginning of the crack, the middle of the crack or the end of the crack?"
Mary said, "So, I told him, 'if you want a yes or no answer you will have to reword the question.'" We were really laughing as she told the story. "He smirked at me. I felt powerful," she said.
Did you trip over the beginning of thecrack, Mizzz Mack?" Pompous Lawyer asked patiently.
"No," Mary replied.
"Did you trip over the middle of the crack?"
"No." "Well, then, I take it you tripped over the end of the crack?"
"'Yes,' I said, but Connie, I really tripped over the space between themiddle and the end and now I'm stressing over whether I blew it."
"What was the doctor's name who treated you?" Pompous Lawyer asked.
"I don't remember."
"You don't remember your doctor's name?"
"It started with a 'K.'"
"So, Mizz Mack, this doctor K, did you pay him?"
"He treated your foot, this Doctor K, and you did not pay him?"
"Yes, you did not pay him.
Mary told me the lawyer had given her a check to give to the doctor. But that wouldn't be a yes or no answer.
That day behind her, Mary started questioning everything. She met with her lawyer again before going to the bone man" as she calls him. "Here's a check for $500 for the doctor," he advised as he handed it over.
$500?" she gasped, as she went over the conversation. "For what?" It seems he'll go to court to testify to her injuries and the prognosis. This was procedure.
As Mary thumbed through a magazine in the doctor's waiting room, the receptionist bellowed over top of the thick glass partition, "Mrs. Mack, do you have money for me?" Mary got up, purse and magazine in hand, and gave the check to the gum-chewing redhead.
"$500?" she said in her harsh voice, "this isn't enough. It's supposed to be $650."
Mary didn't even get embarrassed. The woman was so crass that Mary just said, "Well, that's what I have; that's what I'm giving you." The receptionist called the lawyer who issued the check and now, sotto voce, the receptionist spoke first and then handed the phone to Mary.
"Mary, be nice," advised her lawyer. "He has to go to court in your behalf. It will be easier if he likes you."
"I am being nice," said Mary, in a not-very-nice voice, confirming what the receptionist whispered to him as Mary's "giving an attitude."
And so it went. Her final doctor's appointment connected with the case is next Thursday at 9:00 a.m. This time she'll see "their" doctors. "Cripes, if they made the appointment at 3:00, my foot would be the size of a watermelon. At nine, though, it looks almost normal."
As we near the end of the saga of Mary Mack and the Sidewalk Crack, I'm left to ponder some questions: Will she be left limping all the rest of her days? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Will she be left counting out an undisclosed amount all the rest of her days?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
"So, Mary," I asked, "was sitting there being questioned by a lawyer defending the guilty party worth the experience - regardless of the outcome?"
"Yes," Mary said. "Most definitely."
"Please, Mary," I said, "just answer 'yes' or 'no'."