Show Me the Money
This week we're contemplating a dangerous trend that's crossed the Pond:
After last week’s horrific stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair (which killed 6 people), the first of the lawsuits is already in. Janeen Beth Urschel lost her partner Tammy Van Dam and has hired a lawyer, claiming that more should have been done to get audience members to safety.
Since Indiana state can’t be sued for more than $5 million, the claim is against several companies believed responsible; a claim of $50 million is being sought on behalf of the deceased’s 17 year old daughter, and $10 million in punitive damages for her partner, Urshcel, who says her “emotional pain is indescribable.”
While most would not argue against a claim by the daughter, many balk at the amount. Fifty million? In my day, such claims were calculated based on the future earnings of the deceased. I know the cost of attending college here is ridiculous, but even with inflation factored in, it’s not going to cost $50 million. And ten million in punitive damages for her 49 year old partner, (who will first have to challenge Indiana State law barring life partners from recovering damages in wrongful death claims)? Seriously?
Yes, the pain of losing someone is hard to describe, but will ten million bucks ease that pain? And what the heck do people mean by “punitive damages” anyway. I know, I know. It’s intended to punish rather than compensate, but again - ten million? Really?
I also know that the numbers have to be initially high because those poor
ambulance chasers lawyers need to take their cut, but does this strike anyone else as a tad greedy?
One of the things that really used to frost me*when I lived in America was the way we would sue at the drop of a hat. And I’m sure that, somewhere, someone probably did try to sue someone for dropping a hat, perhaps because it resulted in severe cocklaphobia. (No, I am Not making that up.)
To my mind, litigationphilia (yes, I DID make that up) was something ugly and detestable that slithered into our national psyche when we weren’t paying attention. Before we knew it, it had bludgeoned Rugged Individualism senseless, trussed him up and tossed him in the basement with his old friend Common Sense. Suddenly, no matter what mishap befell anyone, someone ELSE was at fault and they MUST PAY. Dearly.
I went out with a woman (for a, thankfully, short time) who told me that the only way to get rich in America was to inherit, win the lottery or sue someone. (Really? What happened to the Protestant Work Ethic, and exploiting the masses?) Not having much hope of the first two, she was actively pursuing the final option against an unfortunate woman who had bumped her car from behind at a traffic light. At the lawyer visit I accompanied her to, I heard tales of whiplash, pain and suffering, unspecified fears and debilitation. Her litany of agony caused the lawyer’s eyes to glow with dollar signs. Never mind that all of it was rubbish.
This belief—that hurting yourself was the ticket to untold riches—had the effect of practically wiping out things like church picnics, town fairs and the like due to the rising probability that someone might stub their toe and sue the pants off of the organizers. And I found that very sad.
It was a relief, therefore, when that attitude did not appear to be as prevalent over here. Sure, there was the odd frivolous lawsuit, but for the most part, people seemed content with the idea that they were responsible for their own actions, and their consequences.**
However, over the years, the Health and Safety laws (and legends) have done a fair job of producing similar results without the help of pesky lawsuits. Instead of becoming a litigious society, we have become a “risk adverse” society, where every action—no matter how benign—is subject to scrutiny. This has led to the cancellation of pancake races, forbidding the childhood game of “Conkers” and the abolishing long-standing traditions, such as The Annual Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling Competition.
Organizations, large and small, can find their plans for a benefit concert, church fete or company picnic stopped cold by those three little words: “Health and Safety.” If you do this, someone might get hurt, and we can’t have that, can we?
Different attitude, but the same result. And I find that very sad.
* Another thing that used to frost me was spending the night in a walk-in freezer, but that’s another story.
** That said, there is an appalling sense of entitlement developing within the younger generation but, that too, is another story.
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