Fallen Tree 21.
(This blog is part of a series of seven blogs. Please click here to commence reading at the first blog.) Fallen tree 21 almost killed me, and although the school clearly mentioned tree maintenance had been performed, I felt that something wasn’t quite right. I received two arborist reports from my lawyers, and my understanding is that Cedar College provided these reports soon after the accident. The school received the first report during April 2005 from Arbortech Tree Services Pty Ltd, which suggested the tree was in good health. However, the structure was poor, and high priority was placed on pruning at the cost of $690.
The second report was provided by Tree Environs Pty Ltd in December 2007 and recommended the removal of two significant trees and sixteen non-significant trees. This included the fallen tree 21 at the cost of $1,950 with a medium priority and a time frame of six to eighteen months. This time frame finished three months before tree 21 fell on me.
Understandably, I was angry. It appeared that the school ignored the advice of the 2nd arborist, and made a decision to keep the tree. Did they also ignore the recommendations of the 1st arborist? The total maintenance cost of fallen tree 21 was $2,640!
As I looked at images of the fallen tree, my anger turned into fury.
The TV interview.
What is the next level of emotion after being furious? I am not sure, but I reached that level after reviewing the words of the tv interview on the day of the accident. Filmed close to the fallen tree. (view it in the first blog).
‘We’ve had a tree surgeon on the property who’s examined all the trees and instructed us which branches need to be removed, we’ve done that. This tree, in particular, wasn’t on that list, so we assumed it would be safe and sometimes you just can’t tell what’s inside a tree.’
‘The children have all gone home and we’ve got the situation under control, We’ve already had the trees assessed, we’ve had everything in place for the safety of the kids . . . unfortunately, it’s just one of those things, we don’t know when a tree is going to fall.’
It seemed to me that the school was protecting their integrity, rather than telling the truth about tree 21. Many parents and students were watching the tv news reports, both current and future, and these people needed reassurance about tree safety. Leaving the school or never enrolling there in the first place, could affect the finances of the school.
As TV stations only use a small portion of all footage taken, I assume the interviewee said some good things about me and wished me well, but these were cut. Or was the focus on convincing viewers that the accident was an act of God, rather than an event that could have been avoided by the school?
‘How to handle trauma’ by Cedar College
I found a Cedar College newsletter dated a few weeks after my accident in which the author wrote about ‘How to handle trauma’. One statement I fully agreed with, as the care provided on the day to all of my family was fantastic…
‘A big thank you to the parents who so willingly helped out on that traumatic sports day, the sense of community was amazing.’
Given the ambulance took 30 minutes to arrive, the people providing first aid at the school saved my life. The newsletter continued…
‘When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again’
18 months had passed since the accident, and the pain in my body was still present, not that anyone from the school had any first-hand knowledge of this. On the day of the accident, school leaders would have been stressed, worried, and confused, particularly when giving TV interviews. A few weeks had passed to gather their thoughts for the newsletter. They could tell the truth about the lack of tree maintenance, rather than blaming God. Did they take the opportunity? …
‘A stressful event is most likely to be traumatic if
• it happened unexpectedly
• you felt powerless to prevent it.’
No, they didn’t! How could the school suggest the event was unexpected? They had the arborist reports, the weather report about the wind gusts for the day was available the morning of the accident, and the months leading up to September were hotter and drier than usual. When you combine all of these factors, fallen tree 21 DID NOT unexpectedly fall over, nor was the school powerless to prevent it from happening. An opportunity was missed to share the truth about the accident and the tree.
The newsletter finished with the following…
‘We continue to pray for the recovery of John Duthie and (the other people) who were injured on the day. These holidays do something extraordinary, take your kids out and have loads of fun’.
Reading the first sentence was pleasing. However, I felt that the second sentence was insensitive towards my family, as we were not having fun during the holidays.
The bible verse about ‘God helps those who help themselves’
By July 2011 the disability-related expenses were increasing, and they were all coming out of my pocket. My public liability lawsuit was still four-five years from being settled, as they typically take around seven years. The proceeds of the TPD (Total and Permanent Disability) payout would be spent within a few years. Good news arrived when my legal team were informed that the school were prepared to reimburse me for ongoing expenses. There were only two conditions. The costs had to be reasonable, so I couldn’t go on a spending spree, and the offer was on a ‘without prejudice’ basis. This was legal jargon to say that the proposal to pay for expenses could not be brought up in court. This news provided some relief, and the relief was more than merely related to the family finances. I felt better about Cedar College, and some of the Christian love and care was starting to show through.
I provided receipts and waited for the cheque(s) to arrive. Additional receipts were given, and I waited. And the process was repeated. Possibly six months passed, and still no sign of the cheques, and I asked my legal team to follow up with Cedar College. I expected the reply to be ‘the cheque is in the mail’, but the message was that I would be receiving no financial help from the school for my ongoing expenses. It felt as if they changed their minds and were too afraid to tell me! To withdraw an offer was worse than not proposing to pay in the first place.
Without the provision of a reason for withdrawing their offer, my angry mind thought of a reason. I would run out of funds a few years before the public liability settled. The more financial duress I was under, the more likely I would accept a lower settlement. I read on the net that this was a typical approach by defendants towards victims, but defendants, their lawyers and the insurance companies would never admit this.
Cedar continued their costly building program. Part of a school’s newsletter mentioned …
‘Cedar College has recently completed the most significant building project in its 15-year history. The state-of-the-art $4.25M facility was completed.’
‘Work is now well underway in the Stage 2 development of the Cedar College Sports Centre’ and ‘Building work has also commenced on two new Science Laboratories in the High School, and ‘Cedar College announces new Performing Arts Centre, opening 2016’.
The performing arts centre cost $3.2M, and assuming $3M for the stage 2 of the sports centre; the total building projects had a budget of around $10 million. It didn’t sit well with me that Cedar College would spend so much money on themselves while providing me with nothing for my significant expenses for which they had caused.
I shared the news on my Facebook wall including photographs of the new buildings at the school. Within 30 minutes I received a phone call from my legal team at Tyndall Gask Bently. I took the information down as they suggested that although the information was factually accurate, it may affect the public liability lawsuit. I followed their advice, and the truth would have to wait until later. Which is now.
Regarding the bible verse which mentions ‘God helps those who help themselves’. It doesn’t appear in the Bible and is often mistakenly thought to be there. It just seems appropriate to use the verse now.
An accessible car park at Cedar College
Roger Hargreaves created the ‘Mr Men’ characters in 1971, and Mr Angry was regularly active in my mind due to the behaviours of the school. A disabled car park was placed within a few metres from the location of the fallen tree. A new character, Mr Cynical, joined Mr Angry, as I considered what would have happened if I died. Would a sign be placed near the car park in memory of me?