Strange twist in 10-year legal battle, Ocean vs. Economical

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In a terse, 21-word email, 53-year-old May Ocean appeared to "walk away" Friday night from her 10-year legal battle against Economical Mutual Insurance and Raymond Patrick Sullivan, the uninsured driver of a car that collided with Ocean’s vehicle on December 13, 2000 near her home in Whites Lake, 25 kilometres south of Halifax. (See Coast cover story, May Ocean vs. Goliath)

The email, addressed to a Nova Scotia Supreme Court law clerk, members of the legal teams defending Economical and Sullivan and a journalist, was sent after the 12th full day of Supreme Court hearings in Ocean’s long-running lawsuit against Economical and Sullivan. However, in a second email sent on Saturday, Ocean wrote: "Though I will no longer be participating, I expect that trial will continue until it is over."

Ocean, who is representing herself in court, was part way through a long list of witnesses she had been questioning in her attempt to prove that Sullivan was to blame for the accident and that Economical, her insurance company, is liable to pay her damages. However, she now says she has abandoned plans for further witnesses of her own and won't cross-examine any that lawyers for Economical or Sullivan may call. Instead, she says she wants to work full time on drafting her closing arguments which she would like to submit in writing.

During a telephone interview Ocean said she feels ill and exhausted. "If I can avoid it, I just don’t want to step back in that courtroom. It’s like beating me down so bad. I just am so tired and I have to listen to my body."

Ocean added she's not sure whether Judge Deborah Smith, who is hearing the case, will require her to continue attending the trial. "If she makes me come there, I will. But I will literally stick something in my only good ear so I don’t hear a thing and I will work on my closing arguments," Ocean said. "I’m not going to pay attention to what they (the lawyers opposing her) have to say."

Ocean satisfied with evidence

Ocean says she feels she has presented enough evidence to prove her case and doesn't want to get bogged down in a mass of detail that may only confuse the main issues. "I’m using my backing away as a statement. It’s pointing like a flaming arrow where I want the judge to look," she says suggesting that her witnesses have drawn a clear picture to show that she was not to blame for the accident.

Ocean's last witness, the accident reconstruction expert hired originally by Economical, testified that the Sullivan vehicle was travelling northbound on Prospect Bay Road at about 91 kilometres-per-hour in a 70 kilometre zone. Stuart Smith added that Ocean had little opportunity to avoid the collision as she pulled onto the highway from a store parking lot for a left-hand turn. He said his measurements and calculations showed that Sullivan's car was in Ocean's southbound lane when the crash occurred.

Dr. Smith demonstrated the angle of the vehicles at the point of impact with two Dinky Toys. However, Ocean herself used the tiny models in an attempt to show that Dr. Smith had miscalculated the angle of the vehicles and how hers moved after the crash. At one point, the judge warned Ocean not to cross-examine her own witness.

Geoff Machum, a lawyer for Economical, suggested to the accident reconstruction expert that if Sullivan were travelling at more than 90 kph, Ocean should have seen his headlights before she pulled out of the parking lot. Dr. Smith had testified that Ocean could see at least 110 metres to the south where the road bends.

Megan Roberts, a lawyer for Raymond Sullivan, tried to show that Dr. Smith could have miscalculated Sullivan's speed.

As the court adjourned on Friday, Dr. Smith was scheduled to return for further cross-examination when the trial reconvenes during the last week of October.

However, it's not clear how Ocean's decision not to participate anymore may affect the proceedings.