The Case of the Red London Phone Box

The Case of the Red Phone Box

Red London Phone Box

Red London Phone Box


Or, a not so funny thing happened on the way to the British Library.

This past Saturday I was in London to visit with an old friend, Linda McFadden, and to go to a play at the Royal National Theatre.  It was such a beautiful day.  We went down to Canary Warf on the Thames and took the high speed ferry up river to the Victoria Embankment landing.  The trip was a lot like being on board a time machine watching history flow past as near the speed of light we inched through the centuries – talking of the Great Fire of London, the numerous beheadings at the Tower, the grand processions across Tower Bridge, the weirdness of London Bridge being in Arizona and Cleopatra’s Needle being in London, how the stern-faced genius Sir Isaac Newton must have  looked barging down the river to demand data from the recalcitrant Royal Astronomer at Greenwich, all from the starkly high teched grand salon of a 21st Century, jet powered ferryboat.  Fun stuff!

At Embankment we disembarked and headed to the tube station, Oyster Cards at the ready, and zipped away on the Northern Line to the Tottenham Court Road station.  I’m feeling like such a London sophisticate! Looking for a bookstore near the British Library, Linda and I ambled along New Oxford Street amid the bump and jostle of shoppers and gawkers on this sunny spring weekend.  At Bloomsbury Street we crossed over and headed toward the British Museum/Library.  And then I tripped.  It was definitely not like “in slow motion.”  It was like out of nowhere a big red London Phone Kiosk hit me squarely on the top of the head with all its force. (Maybe it was upset that a Yank was acting like some cocky Londoner!) Inside my head a sound went off like the white-yellow light of the burst of a great star going nova.  I went down.

I was on the sidewalk, head between my knees and bleeding profusely.  I remember how near the same color my fresh blood was to the color of the phone box.  Linda must have been waving for help, because suddenly all sorts of people were stopping and helping.  I just sat there on the sidewalk disoriented and bleeding all over everything.

I know we all think of big cities as being heartless walk-on-by kinda places, but not today.  A British couple with two babies in a double stroller stopped immediately, broke out handy wipes, clean diapers, water . . . another woman ran to the nearby Boots Pharmacy and got gauze, and yet another woman called an ambulance.  It looked worse than it was . . . but what a mess I made. Thank goodness those phone booths are bright blood red!  

Anyway the EMT guys got there quickly, tried (without much success) to check the bleeding with pressure bandages and roared away to St Mary’s Hospital (near Paddington Station). Six hours and 22 stitches later, with a bandage that looks like I might have been exalted to the status of Cardinal or perhaps Grand Cyclops of the KKK, I was discharged.  Linda walked me to Paddington, found me a Paddington Bear Hat to cover my bandages (I looked way stupid!) and sent me off on the Oxford train.  An hour later I arrived, and was able to walk to Folly Bridge without further disfugalty.

The doctor said I’d be sore for a few days (got that right) and for me to take it easy.  He (and two other MDs) checked really well to make sure there was no serious damage to bone or brain . . . and though he couldn’t quite understand why there wasn’t, pronounced me fit to leave under my own steam.  I do have a little brochure he gave me that suggests I may become disoriented and tired, and perhaps a little forgetful for the next few days. Since I have been in much this condition for the past 20 years, I’m not too worried about that.  I’m especially encouraged however that the brochure goes on to say, “these symptoms should completely disappear within a week.”  Being disoriented, tired, forgetful and stupid is reversible! 

So OK, now you know the gory story.  Here’s what.  I’m a teacher.  I use any and everything that happens to whatever pedagogical benefit seems appropriate.  Take this traumatic experience, for example . . .

In the days following the accident, I have received a great deal of sympathy from friends here and at home, and no little advice.  A recurring theme, particularly among British friends, is that I should sue London (actually the borough of Holborn) because one reason I fell was a broken place in the sidewalk into which I stepped just before the Phone Kiosk hit me.  Two particularly dear friends have gone on at length about how stupid I would be not to bring a law suit.  One has suggested she might move and live with me in Malaga in the villa that I would buy with the proceeds of the judgment.  This is not an unappealing offer!

Let me lay out the facts as I know them of this case . . . and ask you faithful reader to give me your best legal and ethical advice.

On a clear sunny day in London I was walking with a friend along Bloomsbury Street just north of its intersection with New Oxford Street.  The friend was slightly ahead of me and on my left.  We were chatting.  I was wearing a small back pack with books and personal articles inside; it was fairly heavy (maybe twenty pounds).  I was also wearing some new shoes I’d purchased three weeks before that are intended to relieve a problem I’m having with my left foot.  The shoes come with a warning that it may take a few weeks to learn to walk correctly in them, and on several occasions I have stumbled when the rocker shaped sole of one or the other shoe strikes the pavement unexpectedly as my leg swings forward.  Just before I fell I stepped into a slight depression (two or three inches deep) where the sidewalk was being repaired and just in front of a red phone kiosk.  I struck the phone kiosk with the top front of my head causing severe pain, extensive lacerations in my scalp and copious bleeding.  I was taken by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital near Paddington Station.  I was treated in St. Mary’s A&E and after the wound was cleansed, closed with sutures and bandaged (about six hours) released.

There are a number of witnesses to some or all of these events including my friend Linda who is an ordained Protestant minister, as well as the four people who stopped and offered assistance, the two ambulance drivers, and the doctors and nurse of St. Mary’s Hospital. 

Here are my own observations about all this.  I just don’t know whether the shoes played any part in my stumbling, but I’m sure they didn’t help.  The sidewalk under repair clearly contributed to my stumbling.  I was talking and looking forward towards Linda and never saw the broken place in the sidewalk. There were no signs or warnings about the sidewalk repair.  The book bag helped propel me forward more quickly than I anticipated, and was a part of why I didn’t “catch myself” before butting into the phone box. While I was in one hell of a lot of pain, there seems to be no long term effect of the accident.  Linda and I did not get to the play, but we had only 20 pounds invested in the tickets.  In this most civilized of countries there was no charge to me for any of the medical services I received.  Finally, my friends tell me that the borough government is a very advantageous defendant, and that judges and juries are fond of siding with plaintiffs who were arguably harmed by the negligence of local governments.

So, what would you do?  I’m not asking you to be my lawyer (solicitor or barrister) but if you were on a jury and had these facts in front of you, would you decide in my favor in the case of Boo vs. London Phone Box?  But maybe more importantly, what should I do?  What ethical considerations should I take into account?  What ethical approach would you recommend for dealing with all of this?  What would be best for the greater good?  What are my duties to truth/justice, to myself, to my family, to this most civil of societies, to the friend who wants to move to Malaga?  (Ok forget her!)

And just to make this more interesting, what if one day (before the statute of limitations has run) some really serious problems related to the accident crop up?  Consider the same questions as above.

19 Responses to “The Case of the Red London Phone Box”

  1. 1 tom mccoy May 13, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Sue the telephone booth maker for not having flexible materials in cases of head butting. Telephone booth maker will sue the city for lack of proper signage re: the hole. The city will sue the back pack maker for not having a warning about the propensity of the backpack, when over loaded, to propel its owner forward at an unsafe speed if said owner trips. The backpack company will then sue you for being an attorney; using that lofty occupation to cover your ass in case of unforseen medical and psychological symptoms; and, echoing most people’s feelings about lawyers and suing at the drop of a hat, (which, if you’d had one on your head, might have prevented some of the pain and suffering, the back pack company will win.

    You will be stripped of your license. DU will be so embarrassed they will suspend you indefinitely. You will be the poster person for uwarranted and contemptible litigious activities, and, broke and depressed, you will sob like a little girl on the Oprah show saying, “I really didn’t think it would spiral out of control.” You will then fade from view almost as if you’d been swallowed by a leviathan.

    You and Woof will wander the streets of a small midwestern city with a sign that reads, “Will social contract for food.” After a few years you will resurface as the host of a wildly popular reality TV show called, “To Sue or Not to Sue.” The show features real cases and real juries. You become an adjunct professor at a leading eastrn university in the newly formed Ethical Mass Media Department, spending your free time in Malaga.

  2. 2 Don May 13, 2009 at 5:02 pm


    This is a no-brainer once you take the London, England piece out of the transaction and do what you’d do if the same thing happened to you back in Denver.

    Since you’re even THINKING ABOUT a lawsuit, you should do the smart thing and meet with a barrister or solicitor (not sure which would handle a slip and fall case) You should lay the facts out before them and make your dedcision based on their advice. I think that’s what you’d do if you had the same accident in Denver. You also need to find out what the law is in Britain about suits against a public entity such as the public works department and/or the phone company. There may be stronger sovereign immunity rulings than back home.

    Your contacts at Oxford should be able to come up with a referral for you, hopefully one who will give you a no-fee initial meeeting, like many lawyers do over here. I don’t know if they have contingent fees, but if so, kthat would be the kind of lawyer you would want.

    I think you’re being a bit of an Eagle Scout with your voiced concerns about the new shoes and the book bag… an aside, you’re also creating discoverable documents that could be used as an admission against your interests at trial!!

    I see the major practical problem here as lying in the fact that you’ll be back across the pond before anything you filed would ever get to trial. That would encourage the other side to hold up on any settlement offers and delay any early trial date. Ask your lawyer for advice about that. Is there some way you can preserve your testimony through a deposition, or are you willing to come back for your trial?

    Finally, find out whether you’d have to pay costs and fees of the defendant if you sued and lost. I remember that this is the “English Rule,” vs the “American Rule,” where, with narow exceptions, both parties pay their own way.

    Sorry this happened and am glad there was nothing permanent.



  3. 3 Scottie May 13, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    Well times are tight, but a settlement is not likely to come soon enough to help with the current financial state.

    So I will hope that there is no permanent damage to my father for which further funds will be necessary and that perhaps we’ll have a fine health care system in the USA when such care if ever is needed.

    As to an immediate response, I want the town to be notified, and a request made that they either repair the spot in the sidewalk or put a noticeable cone, orange stripe or something around it to prevent any further accidents to others until such time as it can be repaired. Is that done via law suits in England? Or can one simply report the accident and they will see to it? I’d want the same thing in Denver. Suggesting, rather than suing for softer phone booths sounds like a good idea too.

    From your daughter who doesn’t like lawsuits, is glad her father lived to tell this tale, and hopes in the telling that the right thing will continue(here’s to the passersby and the health care system) to be done by the community in which it occurred.


  4. 4 Terrell May 14, 2009 at 1:37 am

    OK, I say SUE….after following Don’s advice. And, I so love Tom’s story. And, I wish I had Scottie’s ethical/socially responsive stance. However, there are not answers to all of the “what ifs,” and I’m with you on your thinking: “And just to make this more interesting, what if one day (before the statute of limitations has run) some really serious problems related to the accident crop up?”
    Why not turn to garrulous,old Polonious…”To thine own self be true and it will follow as day the night, thou canst not then be false to any man.” And such is your struggle, I know, but I thought it would be cool to throw Shakespeare into the thinking!
    You point out in your email: “You may be able to participate in the proceeds of the judgment!” Therefore, I have to admit that I am assuming I have a dog in this fight, and I am intrigued by an early (some would say LATE) retirement….or at least another trip to Oxford.
    Love you,

  5. 5 Duncan May 14, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Susie and I brought this whole issue to the English couple who live downstairs, and true to what you’re finding, they said to sue. Perhaps the Brits are even more litigious than we are. Hard to imagine. So one idea is, “When in Rome…”

    The way I see it, your greatest obligation is to yourself. If there is enough doubt in your mind about the validity or necessity of a suit, don’t do it. However, if you feel like the town is a depersonalized and obligated-enough defendant, go for it. Basically, do what would leave you sleeping better at night.

    I’m not sure whose ethical theory that would fall into but I did think of the categorical imperative. The one thing that I can’t decide is if you should imagine a person positioned just as you (Yank, shoes, backpack, etc.) or just anyone in general that can entertain a maxim-turn-universal-law and move on. But, given your background, perhaps you should go with a hybrid of sorts: decide based on that philosopher whose theory of ethics provides a maxim that you would sleep comfortably with if it were turned into a universal law. Whatever the heck that means.

    All this philo-psycho-babble aside, I say you get stateside without further incident. I’ll set you up with a neuropsych eval and hope that the incident actually raised your premorbid functioning. Scary to think it may have diminished. Miss you Pops and we’ll need to Skype again soon.

  6. 6 leviathanindex May 14, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I’m at least going to preserve a record of it all. But my inclination is to just move on. I’m alive, and it feels really good. Nothing like being shot at and missed to focus the mind!

  7. 7 leviathanindex May 14, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Such good advice, Scottie. Tell my wise and wonderful granddaughters to chime in. We could significantly enhance their inheritance with a successful legal action!

  8. 8 leviathanindex May 14, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Duncan, such excellent ideas! Isn’t it funny that the Brits we have both talked to so far are more litigious than us Yanks? Great Kantian analysis, by the way . . . particularly for a shrink like you. Is it relevant that I am afraid to put on those $200 special shoes of mine again?

  9. 9 leviathanindex May 14, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Don, you’re such a dear friend . . . and one hell of a lawyer. Do you have a wig? I’d like you to petition to be my Barrister in this matter. Thank you so much for your clear and careful reasoning.

  10. 10 leviathanindex May 14, 2009 at 7:36 am

    I’m still laughing, McCoy. Your grand sense of it all . . . especially how beautifully ridiculous this life is, brings such freeing joy to both head and heart. Will you be my writer and director on the TV thing . . . long time since we’ve done that gig together.

  11. 11 Jimmy Williams May 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm


    I’m sorry I hadn’t read your blog about this incident before receiving your e-mail, but I feel worse about the trauma you went through as a result. I truly hope that all is right with you now.I will be letting “all the others” in on what happened, and will make sure that you get on Drina’s list.

    As for “what to do”, I couldn’t agree more with Scottie – both her recommendations and her reasons why. (Some day I’d like to meet her.) Again, consistent with Scottie’s thoughts, the only appropriate lawsuit, if one is necessary, would be one against the city to eliminate the trip hazzard involved in your accident and maybe improving the general safety in that local. I will not bore you or your readers with further explanation.

    That’s my two-cents (twopence-?) worth.

    I will e-mail you later about a couple of other things.


  12. 12 Bill Crofton May 15, 2009 at 3:05 am

    As an Ethics professsor you will do the right thing that makes you feel comfortable. No question that it should be brought to the attention of the authorities so they can keep it from happening to someone else. Do not want my grandson to come back with stiches.

  13. 13 leviathanindex May 15, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Jim and Bill,

    It is so good to have friends . . . more than 65 years now we’ve been friends! Who respond and care. Thanks so much for your words. Some how the incident made me feel really alone over here . . . you two have helped that immensely.

  14. 14 Tom McCoy May 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm


    In an event Denver University officials are calling “unfortunate,” Interpol agents and US Narshalls swarmed a quiet street in Oxford on Saturday and arrested popular Daniels College professor and Colorado resident Buie Seawell.

    A photograph of Seawell in a hat he has been wearing since his encounter with a British phone booth is making the rounds on Face Book prompting hundreds of calls to Colorado’s Most Wanted Hot Line where civic minded citizens have indentified Seawell as a wanted felon.

    The embarrassing case of mistaken identy was quickly remedied when Seawell removed the Paddington Bear chapeau to show a guard his head wound while recounting the details of his painful experience. Afer the second hour of listenting to Seawell, HMS Officer Nigel Wellstone told his supervisor, “Any chap who could make an ethical dilmema out of a stumble is not keen enough to be a felon.”

    Chief Inspector Miles Creighton apologized for the arrest and urged Seawell to “Be brave and go about without the hat. Many women are attracted by bandages,stitches, scars and partly bald spots.” Creighton then spoke wistfully and candidly about a certan nurse he encounterd during the brief Falkland’s war where he served as a young man. When Creighton concluded his unusual remarks,Seawell was overheard inquiring about the “angel of mercy’s” current age, well being and her contact information.

  15. 15 Garcia Wood May 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    There is an actual Red Kiosk Phone Booth in Palmer Lake,CO., where I live. Seriously!. British friends of mine live built a beautiful English Tutor House and have it on their property. I will tell Woof to go pee on it.

  16. 16 Stephanie May 28, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Hey there Buie,

    I am trying to get your email address so that I can invite you out for coffee sometime, but can’t find your contact details on this site. I hope it is ok that I am contacting you this way. It was great to see you at High Table on Tuesday.

    My email is:

    Drop me a line if you feel like meeting up between writing sessions! It would be great to see you.

    Best wishes,

    Stephanie Hare

  17. 17 leviathanindex May 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    When I get home I’ll join our Woofers! in the activity!

  18. 18 AndrewBoldman June 4, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me!

  19. 19 leviathanindex July 8, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks, Andrew. Nice to have a new reader.

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