The Bahamas Supreme Court hears death penalty cases, treaty disputes and complex disputes of company law; but in 1952, the court heard the case of the slap! It was the earth shattering case of the drunken slap, at the Windsor Hotel, in Nassau, in March 1951.
Actor Errol Flynn, was one of the biggest stars in his day. He came to Nassau in March 1951, to recuperate from a fall aboard his yacht in France in 1950. The fall left him severely injured. He was in Nassau in a bar at the Windsor Hotel when he met Canadian millionaire, Duncan McMartin. They struck up a friendship of sorts.
In the middle of the evening in question, 4th March 1951, actor Errol Flynn was hit about the face by the millionaire McMartin. Errol Flynn said it was a vicious blow. McMartin said it was barely a tap. And he was drunk.
(Errol Flynn 1909-1959)
The case went to the Supreme Court, one year later, in March 1952. Actor Errol Flynn was suing the Canadian millionaire for £80,000 ($223,000). The parties hired the best lawyers Nassau had to offer. Attorney Geoffrey Johnstone represented actor Errol Flynn. Attorney A. F. Adderley represented Duncan McMartin.
It was a case that undoubtedly lawyer A. F. Adderley knew he wouldn’t win. His client freely admitted to striking Errol Flynn. That fact alone was the very crux of the case. What Adderley did instead, was to attack the voracity of the slap. Was it a tap or a blow? Was it intentional or accidental? Was his client indeed drunk or was he sober? Was it a fight between friends or casual acquaintances?
Bahamian attorney Geoffrey Johnstone called Errol Flynn’s personal doctor to testify about the extent of the actor’s injuries.
A. F. Adderley countered the doctor’s testimony. He bought an expert witness, a doctor from Toronto to dispute Flynn’s physician’s testimony that the blow caused so much damage that he was unable to complete an upcoming picture. It was this reason why he was claiming £80,000 in personal damages.
(Los Angeles Times 25 March 1952)
Errol Flynn testified that on 4th March 1951, both he and McMartin were living at the Windsor Hotel. He didn’t recall them being friends. Flynn claimed the blow paralysed him with severe pain and that McMartin showed remorse by visiting him twice after the incident saying “When I’m drunk I don’t know who I hit.”
(Los Angeles Times 19 March 1952)
So how did the case end? Well, there were winners and losers on both sides.
Geoffrey Johnstone won the case for Errol Flynn but he didn’t get as much money as he had been hoping for. Flynn was awarded $14,000 and costs because he was actually slapped. He didn’t prevail in getting the whole $223,000 he was asking for because he couldn’t prove that the slap was that injurious or led to the physical damage he was claiming.
Flynn took his $14,000 win and bought the Titchfield Hotel in Jamaica for an undisclosed amount.
(The New York Times, 3rd April 1952)