Some people have all the (bad) luck

By Legal Eagle

When we lecturers write exam questions involving hypothetical legal problems, we create a string of mishaps which happen to one poor hypothetical plaintiff. Occasionally students complain that these scenarios are not realistic. This morning in the Herald Sun, I read this story, and I think I’ll show it anyone who complains about unrealistic bad luck in hypothetical problems:

Abir Taha thought property investment would guarantee her family’s future but her dream has turned sour.

But after an 18-month nightmare that started when a demolition company allegedly turned up to the wrong address and destroyed her Broadmeadows investment house, she’s not so sure.

Her insurer, Westpac Insurance, won’t cover the damage.

The remains of her house were destroyed by what police describe as a “suspicious fire”.

The saga began in July 2010 when demolition contractors allegedly accidentally destroyed Ms Taha’s property at 34 Kitchener St, Broadmeadows, when they were meant to demolish a building at 34 Stanhope St, around the corner.

Neighbours allegedly tried to stop the demolition after hearing glass breaking and called police, who allowed the demolition to continue after they checked workers’ driver licences but not their demolition permit. Police allegedly did not contact Ms Taha.

The house was stripped of wiring, plumbing, windows, doors and cupboards.

Ms Taha is now suing the demolition company, Westpac and police, alleging they failed in their duty of care. She estimates it will cost up to $180,000 to fix the property, and she has lost $1400 a month in rent.

Police are still investigating the fire that destroyed what was left earlier this month.

“Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding a fire at a residence in Kitchener St. The fire is believed to be suspicious and the investigation is on-going,” a police spokesman said.

Ms Taha’s lawyer, Rebecca Fahey alleged: “My client has suffered significantly both financially and emotionally as a direct result of her house being accidentally demolished, which has further been exacerbated by the failure of Westpac Insurance to honour her policy of insurance.

“The fire which has now occurred at the property, due to a complete lack of security at the home following the demolition, is a final blow.

See, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

16 Comments

  1. Ripples
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Truth is stranger than fiction and now I want to know more. I want to know if the house that was meant to demolish got demolished. What grounds is the insurer using to refuse to pay out.

    The mind boggles as to what further insult can be added to the injury?

    I am thinking that a fine from the local council for a demolition without permit (if they have the rule and technically they didn’t have a permit to drop the particular house) would add some salt to the poor plaintiff’s wounds.

  2. Louise
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    The poor woman! I hope it is sorted for her soon.

  3. Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    And I thought I just had a bad day…

    I can’t imagine how maddening it must be to have lost so much because some clown can’t get an address correct. I guess the one lucky aspect of the whole situation was that it was her investment property and not her home that was destroyed (although I presume someone would have been living there at the time).

    I do wonder how many house insurance policies actually cover “accidental demolition”.

    The mind boggles as to what further insult can be added to the injury?

    I can’t help but wonder if the next thing to happen is that the earth will just swallow the land and she’ll lose that too.

  4. Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    That brought back horrible Tort exam flashbacks.

  5. kvd
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] very good!

    I always wondered just why Billy Connolly had to resort to doves in The Man Who Sued God. Perhaps it was discussed in Victorian RE classes, so I missed it. Anyway, if I’d caused that or this, I would have been culpable – so tell me why Billy’s case was not a walkover win?

  6. Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I certainly recall a ‘mistaken demolition’ case during a tort tutorial last year. Although in that case, the demolition contractor had absconded, leaving the plaintiff with only the option of pursuing a case of negligence against those they provided the information. Let’s hope for this woman’s sake the contractor or whoever is responsible (or at least their insurer) pays up for the mistake.

    kvd, I recall watching that movie back when it came out and strongly siding with Connolly’s case. However, I do now think that if one were to hold the church liable for the harmful acts of God, would not people also need to be liable to the church for all the debt they have to God (under Christian doctrine)?

  7. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Police are notoriously unhelpful when called to situations like this. “It’s only a civil matter” is their stock response. I’m surprised they went so far as to check the demolitioners’ license but would not be surprised if their investigation went no further.

    Perhaps it is rude to direct attention to my own post on on the subject of baroque tortious implausibilities, but a long time ago I offered my own account of one (head on collision between heroin addict who had just scored and man who had just murdered his father and was consequently, one might suppose, overwrought) and attempted, a little too discretely, to draw attention to another (man who fell from rafter at construction site, subsequently depressed, defendant said this was because of his guilt and belief that he had contracted a fatal venereal disease because (prior to the fall) he and his wife had engaged in consensual[!] sex with the family dog).

    In fact there is no shortage of strange but true cases. The lively legal issue is usually not the concatenation of misfortunes as an attribution of blame (successful, for example, in the squib case) to an initial wrongdoer.

  8. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Correction, please:

    The lively legal issue is usually not so much the concatenation of misfortunes as an attribution of blame (successful, for example, in the squib case) to an initial wrongdoer.

  9. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of being monomaniacal, what about this non-hypothetical but very real case.

    RE: SALLY (SPECIAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE) [2010] FamCA 237

    Discuss in terms of Gillick-competence.

    Feel free to remark on unrealistic cases.

  10. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    @marcellous – thank you for bringing the Squib case to my attention. Fascinating!

  11. Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Okay, marcellous @8 really DOES win the internetz for today.

    It’s like one of those AAMI ads, but with extra steroids!

  12. Ripples
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I must admit that a sink hole would be the ultimate insult. The sinkhole made me think of the sandworms from the Dune series of books popping up for a bit of a snack of buildings. I think I may have outed myself as a science fiction geek.

    After a read of the squib case I think I will never use the word “said” ever again in correspondence.

    In regard to bad luck I always remember Dr Cherry in Chapman v Hearse

  13. Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    All that is left to make this a true torts exam is to have the fire spread to a neighbour’s house, permanently disabling their 17y/o son who was about to be drafted for a national football team. But we wouldn’t wish that on anyone except torts professors.

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