An unlocked door, a wine glass, a misplaced hat, and a confused, injured man lying in blood.
Do those series of clues prove the man was assaulted, fell off his balcony, or was hit by an unidentified car?
The NSW Court of Appeal this month considered the mysterious case of Ronald Dowedeit, who was awarded nearly $175,000 in damages after a judge decided he was most likely hit by a car.
Mr Dowedeit was sitting the balcony of his Dulwich Hill flat, in Sydney’s inner-west, drinking wine at sunset on February 27, 2012.
He told police he remembered going outside, walking onto the street to avoid a row of bins, and feeling a “powerful surge” backwards.
Mr Dowedeit was found by neighbours lying face down near the kerb, and told them he had no idea what happened.
He was in hospital for two months with injuries including nine broken ribs, and five broken bones in his pelvis, having little memory of what happened.
Police interviewed Mr Dowedeit in hospital, and went to his flat where they found the balcony door unlocked and ajar, a wine glass outside, and a hat on a ledge below.
Last year Mr Dowedeit sued the Nominal Defendant, which funds compensation for those injured in car accidents involving uninsured or unidentified vehicles.
The Nominal Defendant argued it was open to the judge to find Mr Dowedeit was injured when he fell off his balcony to retrieve the hat, or that he was assaulted.
One engineering expert said Mr Dowedeit’s injuries were consistent with a fall from a height greater than two metres, also pointing to the items found at his flat.
Two other experts found he would have had to have had to “jog” off the balcony – or be pushed – to land near the kerb.
Judge Philip Taylor said the expert and medical evidence was of limited value, and looked at Mr Dowdeit’s injuries, his position on the kerb, and witness statements.
Judge Taylor found that although the evidence was “close to the line”, it pointed to Mr Dowdeit being hit by a car.
The judge would have awarded $349,100, but found Mr Dowedeit had been negligent in walking onto the street without looking out for cars.
The Nominal Defendant appealed that decision, and Mr Dowedeit launched a cross appeal on the ruling of his negligence.
The appeals court found Judge Taylor had not made an error in finding that it was most likely Mr Dowedeit was hit by a car.
“No error has been demonstrated in his Honour’s approach to the expert evidence,” Justice Fabian Gleeson wrote in a judgment agreed to by Justice Anthony Meagher and Justice Carolyn Simpson.
Mr Dowedeit’s damages stand, through his cross-appeal was also dismissed.