Win? That doesn't even begin to describe it. This was a rout. When the smoke cleared, we were celebrating and they were gasping for air.
$429 and change that we should never have been charged? Check.
$175 in court costs? Check.
But wait, there's more...
$100 for our preparation time,
$400 for our inconvenience, for a grand total of $1104.47 plus interest. Not credits on our account, either. Cold cash, baby!
The judge said, "Frankly, I'm surprised that Peel's legal department would have let this go this far. You could have offered a settlement just to expedite this." You know, the settlement that Allan would have been happy to take, the one he regrets not bargaining for?!
It was a little hairy to start. We were very well prepared, but we weren't aware of certain requirements, thinking, for example, that the exhibits in our initial pleading would be the exhibits at trial. So there was some scurrying about, photocopying and highlighting. The judge was annoyed, and I was under pressure to make my evidence as succinct as possible to compensate for the time we had wasted. This was discouraging, and I worried that the judge might penalize us. But to his credit, he moved on, and decided the case on its merits.
I could tell from the judge's questions that he was leaning in our direction. But during the closing arguments, it became obvious.
I did not have a closing prepared. The judge left the courtroom, giving both sides 15 minutes to gather their arguments, and admonishing us not to read anything, just to speak to him. I grabbed a piece of paper and furiously wrote notes. I was able to incorporate responses to their specious arguments, and recap our main points.
The judge returned, and I spoke uninterrupted.
Then Peel's counsel - an articling student (the equivalent of a summer associate in the US) - began her closing arguments. She couldn't get two sentences out without an interruption. The judge questioned everything she said. Allan wrote on my paper, "He's our best witness!" The judge was not badgering her, he was merely driving an 18-wheeler through the massive holes in Peel's case.
At one point, the law student got so flustered that she actually said, "I acknowledge that the Plaintiffs have made a convincing case that they possibly did not use the water..."
The judge's head shot up. "What did you just say? Could you repeat that?"
She stammered, "I mean, there are reasons to show that it was possible, but they have not shown that it was probable."
Before you feel too sorry for her, I'm sure by that time, he had already decided the case.
The judge said this was a case of "balance of probability," and common sense said that it must be decided in our favour. If the meter reading had been twice as high as normal, or three times as high, or perhaps even four or five times as high as normal, the balance of probability would go to Peel. But a bill this outlandish, nearly 10 times higher than typical usage, and usage returning to normal immediately afterwards, must be the result of some kind of error. None of the conditions Peel's inspectors found in the house could have resulted in the crazy bill, since the subsequent bills - which take in the time of those inspections - were completely normal.
What's more, he said, it is not incumbent on the customer to discover what caused the erroneous bill. We cannot be expected to do so (which we pointed out both in our pleadings and at trial). That we cannot say what condition caused the billing error does not mean we should be forced to pay a bill for water we did not use.
We haven't stopped dancing and laughing. Now I must go, my next glass of red wine awaits.