Scott's Column
Jury duty, Excel & PowerPoint files on an Intranet, buying a new house

July 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

I had planned on writing this column from Rockport, Texas. We go there each year. I wrote the first article for this column there. I can still remember it. Read about it here.

However, best laid plans of mice and men... As luck would have it, I was selected for jury duty. I got selected for a civil suit. Testimony took almost 2 days, and deliberation took another day. I was appalled at how long deliberation was.

The case was simple enough (to me), and I thought we could decide the fate of the plaintiff fairly quickly. The case was a negligence case, and they were also trying to prove gross negligence. Gross negligence would have entitled the plaintiff to punitive damages.

It was a quick and unanimous decision for negligence. We also came up with the amounts of money to be awarded the plaintiff fairly quickly. Then we spent over 5 hours arguing over gross negligence. We were locked at 9 to 3, favoring not gross negligence. We needed a vote of 10 to 2 or better to bring in a verdict. Nobody was changing there minds. We sent a note to the Judge, and about 20 minutes later he came back and told us not to worry about the gross negligence.

We quickly got all the paperwork together and signed it for the negligence and the dollar amounts. But it was too late. By the time we got out it was beyond the latest possible time to still take the vacation.

The case? Oh. A woman was suing an electric company because a ladder fell on her at a construction site. It was an A-frame ladder (the folding kind), and was being used outdoors on sloping ground. The woman, and her boss, went to visit a house during the final stages of preparation prior to the owner moving in. The electrician was installing the meter for the electricity.

The woman and her boss walked around the electrician on the ladder to see the back of the house. Upon returning toward the front of the house, the ladder fell and hit the woman on the shoulder. It fractured her collar bone, and did some minor muscular damage, according the the medical reports.

The woman was suing for $300,000 for past and future medical bills, past and future pain & suffering, past and future impairment, past and future disability, and past and future loss in earning capacity.

They trumped up huge numbers, but never could prove that the electrician was anything more than careless in placing the ladder on the sloping terrain.

The loss in earning capacity was the most far fetched. They got an expert in the field to quote figures for three possible scenarios. 1) $66 - 88K loss in earnings to quit working for 3 - 4 years to go back to school and get a degree. This would allow her to reenter the work force in a job that would let her better control her work environment. This improved control would allow her to adjust her schedule around her pain. 2 & 3) $88 - 146K if she continued to work, but retired from the work force early. This was supposed to be common for people that suffer from pain, as she was. Or she could continue working and reduce her daily/weekly schedule to 6 hour days/30 hour weeks.

What I found interesting was that no one wondered what her increased earning capacity would be after getting a bachelor degree and reentering the work force. She had two years of legal secretarial training (trade school), but stopped working as a legal secretary after only nine months in the career.

She took two college classes after high school, but dropped out of both. This information was never revealed to the economist expert. It seems likely (to me) that someone that didn't succeed in college that first time, would have trouble the second time.

The woman was 37 years old, and lived with her parent her entire life. She was married for a year and a half, then divorced. She had a 12 year old son. Like I said, she lived with her parents her entire life. Yes, even while married, with her child, when divorced, and to this day. I have serious doubts as to the determination someone like this has to go back to school and start over. She has not lived one day of her life on her own.

We awarded her $47,000 for past and future medical expenses. She was also awarded a little more than $3,000 for all the other items combined. Her total award was $50,700.

Twenty minutes after I got home, her lawyer called me to find out more about what went on in the deliberation room. I told him that no one believed she was in much pain. The doctors medical records showed she was diagnosed with chronic pain, but that she only has a 3% reduction in the use of her shoulder for a total disability of 2%. She was more comfortable the courtroom chairs than I was, and I am healthy. The doctor also stated that she made significant improvements with each treatment prescribed.

I told her lawyer it seemed pretty clear that she was complaining about pain to get a lot of money.

I was kind of glad to here from the lawyer. I had a number of questions that never got answered, and he was able to provide the answers. 1) Why wasn't the developer that she worked for involved. Only the electrical company sub-contractor was present. Answer: that was the rules they had to follow. 2) Why weren't her medical bills covered by her employer, or workman's compensation. Answer: they were, and now they have to pay that money back from the settlement. 3) What happened with the gross negligence. Answer: the judge told the lawyers about the jury being dead locked, and the plaintiff's lawyer dropped it from the lawsuit.

All in all, I though it was a very interesting lesson in our judicial system. If I had not lost a vacation over it I would have actually liked the experience. In fact, I can almost say that now. We will try to reschedule our trip to the coast for next month.

House Hunting

The big news is we are (were) looking for a new house. My wife and I decided to roll my car payment (now that it is paid off) and another loan payment into our mortgage and get a bigger, newer house.

We narrowed the choice to two, leaning heavily toward one of them, when we called in our real estate agent. Our agent is a fireman full time, and works with my brother-in-law. He does real estate as a second job. He is going to give us the fireman's discount and nock off 1/3 of his commission. A sizable savings.

After he came to look at our house, we decided we needed more time to get it ready for sale. A few items are going to be a little expensive, or time consuming to fix. For example, the fence along the sides of our house is weak. This will require us to replace the gate and about 20-30 feet worth of fence. I expect this to cost at least $300.

The next major item is our formal living room. I have been using it for a game room for some time. I put my desk in there, with my computer. That in itself is not a problem. The problem is that we used a wall mounting for a small TV in that room. So we have a TV hanging on the wall, with its own electrical outlet and cable jack. All at eye level.

I will remove the mount, outlet, and cable jack. Then I will have to patch the area. I also have a dart board in that room. It will have to come down, and the area around it will also need to be smoothed. We will also repaint the wall, or the entire room if we can't match the paint.

We decided it would be best to wait about 6 months before we sell. This will give us plenty of time to get the house ready, and give us a chance to save a few bucks.

All I care about is that the new house has a game room big enough for a pool table. No, I don't have one yet, but will get one soon after moving into our new home.

Our decision to put off the sale of the house a few months game in very handy when our air conditioner leaked, and flooded part of the house. The insurance company is going to cover repairing any damage done by the water, but they will not pay to fix the leaking air conditioner.

As first it seemed the condensation line was clogged. However, after having it cleared the leak returned two days later. It turns out that the coils (the part of the a/c that get the air blown across for cooling) is so old and dirty that they need replacing. Also, the furnace that it sits on, and the pan that collects the water, are leaning to the point that the condensation line is not at the lowest part of the pan. This situation is causing the pan to leak out the back.

It cost use $180 to have an a/c technician tell us this. The insurance will cover fixing the rotting wood that the furnace, pan, and coils are sitting on. However, they will not pay for the coils themselves. My brother-in-law knows someone that has installed 3 complete systems in his rental homes, and we will be contracting him to fix our system. All we need to do is get him to itemize his bill reflecting the difference in water damage vs. coil replacement.

At press time the a/c was repaired, and we are waiting for the insurance companies contractor to start fixing the rest of the water damage.

This will seriously affect our house hunting plans. It looks like we will be trying to sell the house some time in March 1999. I'll keep you posted.

Intranet Site

I am building a new web page that will put Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides on our Intranet. It is a simple project, but had some interesting twists.

I thought it would be easy to do, but difficulties came from many places. I developed a page linking the files. I also put copies of the files on the Intranet site itself. When I first developed the site, I used FrontPage 98. FrontPage 98 generated VBScript code that IE 3.x could not understand. So I installed FrontPage 97 on another machine. Guess what. FrontPage 97 generated the exact same code that would not run under IE 3.x. I found this especially unusual since FrontPage 97 includes IE 3.x on its CD-ROM.

I manually coded everything I needed in JavaScript. That worked fine, except it would not run under IE 4.x. The problem was with the window object in JavaScript. JavaScript is case sensitive, and the window object should be in lower case. Well IE 3.x gives an error when the window object is spelled in lower case. IE 4.x gives an error when the window object is spelled with a capital "W" the way IE 3.x wants it. Thank you Microsoft.

I solved the problem by testing for the version and executing the appropriate "spelling" for each browser. What is most interesting about this is that FrontPage (97 & 98) display the window object in lower case in the script wizard, yet both of them generate code with an upper case w. I guess Microsoft wants everyone to think window should be spelled Window. (Note: This coming from a company that now wants everyone to believe that "Internet Explorer" is a generic term like coke. Microsoft is being sued for "stealing" the name Internet Explorer. I remember when Microsoft wanted to get royalties from any company that used the word Windows in the title of their software. Microsoft said it was a trade name, and others couldn't use it in a product like "Norton Utilities for Windows." It just goes to show you that people will take the side that interests them at the moment.)

Some other items were driving me nuts with the web page, but these were minor appearance items. The last major problem we had was with the PowerPoint files. The Excel files had links to the PowerPoint files, and the PowerPoint files had links back to the Excel files.

Problems arose with the links in the PowerPoint files. If an Excel file was opened (though browsing) the link in the PowerPoint file would give an error. The PowerPoint files also had trouble when they tried to link back to the web page. The browser was looking in its cache for the files, rather than in the intranet site. Errors were different for each version of IE.

We solved the problem by putting the files on a LAN drive, and linking the intranet to the LAN files. We have not come up with a long term solution, but it might be to get a dedicate LAN drive to store the files. At least the demo went well, and no changes are planned when the demo will be shown to the CEO of the company. Cool!

I love high profile work.

Until next time.