Odd Spots

3 mins

Who thinks that the law is boring? Let’s check out two cases with unusual facts that recently made their way through the courts.

Legal cases can often seem dry, especially if they deal with the arcane world of trusts or the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth). Fortunately for the rest of us, legal cases often reveal the foibles of humankind – and every now and then, a weird and wacky case is thrown into the mix. Two recent cases in the Victorian Supreme Court that appear to fall within this realm:

Farting = workplace bullying?

Hingst – The plaintiff sued his employer for $1.8 million, claiming: (1) that he was bullied in the workplace (and developed psychiatric and physical injuries, including irritable bowel syndrome – the irony of which will become more evident in a second); and (2) unfair dismissal.

Amongst other incidents, the plaintiff claimed that his supervisor “would regularly ‘lift his bum and fart’ on him or at him and that [his supervisor] thought this was funny”. In particular, I note the following exchange in Court:

COUNSEL: What do you say to the suggestion that you were in the practice of thrusting your bum at the plaintiff and pretending to fart at him?

WITNESS: Look, I don’t recall doing it, but … I may have done it once or twice, maybe. But I can’t recall. I don’t recall doing so, so I’m not flat out saying I didn’t or I did. I just can’t remember doing it. But if he alleges I did it.

COUNSEL: Well, what do you say to the suggestion that you were doing this in a repeated way with the intention of distressing or harassing him?

WITNESS: No. No, no, no, no. No, not at all. No.

Don’t claim insurance when…

McPadden – Man (the accused) gets his friend (HB) to burn a restaurant down to claim on his insurance… but things go horribly, horribly wrong. Warning: The facts of this case are horrific, but this sanitised extract of the judgment provides some background:

[11]  After the restaurant had closed in the early hours of Sunday, 11 August 2013, the applicant returned with HB to the vicinity of the restaurant. Just before 5.00 am, HB entered the restaurant through the rear metal door which had been left unlocked by the applicant, while the applicant remained in his car. Once inside, HB picked up one of two containers of petrol, which had been obtained for the purposes of setting a fire at the restaurant. At one point he slipped, spilling petrol over his legs as he did so.

[12]  HB poured petrol around the premises, and used a cigarette lighter to ignite the petrol. Fire spread rapidly. HB then found himself on fire, the petrol which he had spilled onto his clothing having ignited. He ran around the restaurant in a panic, unintentionally igniting petrol that he had spread around the premises. HB attempted to put out the flames on his legs by placing his legs into the toilet and flushing.

[13]  HB realised that he was trapped, the rear door of the restaurant having closed behind him and locked automatically. Panicked, HB ran to the front door, through the flames, but was unable to get out. He then attempted unsuccessfully to smash the front window. HB then retrieved a hammer that was under the front counter, but, when bending down to pick up the hammer, more of his clothes caught fire. He immediately removed his shirt and threw it onto the floor, but it landed near the area containing electrical equipment, where HB had previously poured a large amount of petrol. The shirt caused the fuel to ignite and caused an explosion, the force of which threw HB approximately two to three metres.

[14]  HB then picked up a table and threw it at the glass front doors, causing the upper window to break. He dived out the window head first and landed heavily on the footpath. HB had life-threatening injuries, but nonetheless managed to run down the street towards where the applicant was waiting for him…

The friend suffered severe burns and was not admitted to hospital until 28 hours later. Unbelievably, the accused decided it was still a good idea to submit an insurance claim for the burnt-out restaurant.