[Y]ou can’t jump up fast enough to counteract the rate of descent. “And how are you supposed to know when to jump?” [said elevator expert Rick Pulling,]. As for an alternative strategy—lie flat on the floor?—he shrugged: “Dead’s dead.”Via BLDGblog, which highlights the story of the man whose life was transformed by getting trapped in an elevator for 41 hours. I'm going to focus on a part of the story that reaches out to me. [SPOILER ALERT: It's more fun to read the whole article. This is the very end of it.]
At a certain point, Nicholas White ran out of ideas. Anger and vindictiveness took root. He began to think, They, whoever they were, shouldn’t be able to get away with this, that he deserved some compensation for the ordeal. He cast about for blame. He wondered where his colleague was, why she hadn’t been alarmed enough by his failure to return, jacketless, from smoking a cigarette to call security. Whose fault is this? he wondered. Who’s going to pay?...Blame the law, or, more precisely, your own urge toward vengeance that drives you into the law's open arms. That is the suggestion conveyed by the author of this New Yorker article, Nick Paumgarten. But is it not possible to file a legitimate lawsuit, ask for appropriate damages, and still get on with your life?
Caught up in media attention (which he shunned but thrilled to), prodded by friends, and perhaps provoked by overly solicitous overtures from McGraw-Hill, White fell under the sway of renown and grievance, and then that of the legal establishment. He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla. Eventually, Business Week had to let him go. The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building’s management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. He never learned why the elevator stopped; there was talk of a power dip, but nothing definite. Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he’d held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.
Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it. He has come to terms with the trauma of the experience but not with his decision to pursue a lawsuit instead of returning to work. If anything, it prolonged the entrapment. He won’t blame the elevator.
The key sentence is "He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation." He got a lawyer, and came to believe... Paumgarten won't say the lawyer talked White into behaving as if the 41 hours of elevator entrapment wrecked his life, but it seems that White made a destructive decision in the hope of financial gain. Or do you think he was just that angry, that vindictive, that long?
The annals of litigiousness need this morality tale.