The German justice follow-up: you have to pay a little more

You might recall my friend S, whose story of a run-in with a bunch of hick-town vigilantes two weeks after he arrived in Germany a couple of years ago provoked dozens of comments and feedback on justice, or lack thereof, in this country.

Though he had to pay thousands of euro in fines and court costs, his story didn’t end there.  Turns out that the guy who jumped onto his car and then fell off as my friend was trying to get away from the lynch mob turned around and sued him in a civil case for a few hundred euro for damages for pain and suffering.

A few days ago I showed up in court to lend my friend a little moral support.  In contrast to his opponent, S. was alone,  representing himself because he could no longer afford a lawyer.

Without going too much into the details of nearly two hours of testimony, the other side had three witnesses who all said that S. was speeding like crazy through their neighbourhood.  They claimed that he could have driven around the man, but chose to try to run through him instead.  They also claimed there was nobody else around the car at the time.  All confirmed the man claiming damages was injured on his arm and leg when he fell off the car.

The fact the man had some scrapes and bruises is not in dispute, but their statements went completely against my friend’s testimony.  S. says that before he drove away from the scene, his car was surrounded by neighbours, one of whom tried to pull him out of the car, another who tried to wrench off a side mirror.  That’s when he decided to get the hell out, but that his way was continually blocked by the guy who first jumped on his hood before falling off and getting injured.

So the judge split it somewhere down the middle.  She said the guy claiming damages shouldn’t have been anywhere near the path of the vehicle, so he was partly responsible.  And S. shouldn’t have driven away, so he was also to blame.  He should have tried to get help…without, of course, offering any idea how anyone sitting alone in a convertible surrounded by an angry mob is supposed to do that.

S. has to pay a little over 400 euro for damages and court costs, or about one-third.  The complainant’s legal insurance will pay the other two-thirds.  The judge and the guy’s lawyer said he could of course appeal the decision, but that if he lost, his costs would be many times greater, and he’d have to carry them all on his own.  Because he’s got zero income, they worked it out so that he will pay out the €400  in drips and drabs over the next few months.

My friend was disappointed about the outcome as we hashed it out over coffee and a bite to eat after.  He said: the guy’s got a pretty good little business set-up, eh?  Shake down a few vehicles, get your friends to bullshit for you, get the insurance company to pay the costs.

Though I was sympathetic, I told him, look: it might not have come out the way you wanted it to, but sometimes you just have to pay a price for getting people out of your life and putting bad things in the past for good.  At least it’s less than they were gunning for.

A couple of observations:

The guy would never have taken this to civil court for the piddling amount he was suing my friend for if he didn’t have legal insurance.  It just wouldn’t have been worth his while.  Is legal insurance a good thing?  Not in this case.  It simply clogs up the courtrooms with minor cases that should have better been left to die.

And as my friend S. says, this whole thing isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong,  it’s about how much money you can negotiate.  I agree with him.  In the end, all it came down to was the money.

By the way…

I realise that not many bother to read comments, but one of the more than 50 that my first post on this attracted was a bit of a hair-raiser.  Read about commenter Keith’s story of German justice here. I tried to convince him to let me feature him in a post of his own, but he didn’t want to.

7 Responses to “The German justice follow-up: you have to pay a little more”

  1. December 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Several thoughts, all at once. First, I can’t imagine not reading comments – it never crossed my mind there might be people who don’t. Interesting.

    “Legal insurance” caught my attention. I’ve not heard the term before, at least that I can remember. I see it’s quite common here, too. I suppose it’s just another sign of an increasingly litigious society.

    Your friend’s experience sounds like a variation of our “swoop and squat” insurance scam. It’s common as can be on our freeways. Scammers work in pairs, one cutting you off in traffic, the other getting you from behind. Can’t you just feel all that neck and back pain? The mental anguish? If you rub it with enough money, it goes away. Magic.

    And you’re absolutely right. Sometimes it’s worth the price of getting someone out of your life.

    • December 10, 2009 at 8:29 pm

      Linda, I’m not surprised you have a lot of thoughts at once, because I break a lot of rules in this post, one of which is: one subject per post! This deals with about four. I guess I have a bit of catching up to do.

      Jeannine – sometimes you have to whip the horse, too!

  2. December 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    There’s a Chinese saying – something along the lines of ‘if you want an unwanted guest to leave, sometimes you have to give him a horse’.
    I guess your poor friend has just handed over his nag.

  3. December 11, 2009 at 8:26 am

    well after reading Keith’s comment as well as the post in question I’ve changed my mind about visiting Germany in the near future. At least not while I still have the pink streaks in my hair

  4. December 11, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Not reading comments… pish!
    They can sometimes be the most interesting part of the post/article/whatever.

    The story is unbelievable and scary, but knowing what I know about bureaucracy, it really isn’t surprising.

    And NurseMyra… pink streaks are NOTHING here in Berlin. In fact, there are neighborhoods where you can gain streetcred for pink streaks.

  5. 6 C
    December 24, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    This does not bode well for us. I haven’t updated my blog in a while because our landlord went batshit on us and now we have to see him in court — sans legal insurance. The legal process is already looking pretty crazy for us and this post has me shivering in my boots. Ugh.

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