Comment of the Day: “How To Raise An Irresponsible and Dangerous Child”

“I know my precious angel crashed her car, but it’s her own fault: she left the keys in it!”

Michael, who is the reigning champ in the Comment of the Day Division, scores another with this comment, a rebuttal of ampersand’s plea that a mother’s efforts to deflect blame from her joy-riding teenager, now in a coma after causing a high speed police chase and an accident that closed down a major highway, shouldn’t be held against her. “The mother’s statement was stupid,” ampersand wrote, “but… if there’s any time when we should refrain from attacking people for saying stupid, regrettable things, it’s right after their 14 year old son has been in a terrible, tragic car accident. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give this woman the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that how she acts on the worst day of her life might not be a representative sample of how she generally acts.”  I’m generally in favor of the benefit of the doubt, although I personally doubt whether any responsible parent would try to blame joy-riding on the owner of the car her son stole, or would try to minimize the offense by suggesting that “maybe he wanted to go farther than he felt like walking.”  I cannot imagine any tragedy that would have made my parents say something that absurd.  Still, I acknowledged that the context of the mother’s comments should be taken into consideration. Michael was tougher, and makes a powerful case that he should be. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post How To Raise An Irresponsible and Dangerous Child.

“I think ampersand is exactly wrong. So much that is wrong and wasteful is done because of this kind of sentiment. She should be confronted about this, because the alternative is to go along with it. She said it, it was published. It must be refuted. Not refuting it, publicly, leads to this being considered a valid opinion. Considering this a valid opinion means possibly arresting and convicting the owner’s boyfriend. It also means that it is OK to “borrow” someone’s car (however you have to) if you are tired of walking.

“Some examples of what happens when you go along with it because you don’t want to confront someone who has suffered the loss or injury of their child:

  • Example #1. In my senior year of high school, one of my classmates was driving his car home at 2 AM (on a school night). His BAC was over twice the legal limit. He was doing 90+ mph in a 45 zone. He didn’t make a turn, went through a fence, over a cliff, clipped the TOP of one of the signs running over the interstate, landed upside down on the interstate and was hit by a semi. His mother insisted the road must not be safe. No one wanted to tell her that the cause of the accident was a drunk minor driving too fast in the wee hours of the morning with the implication that if she kept a little more control of her son he would still be alive. Instead, road studies were implemented (at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars) that found the road was perfectly safe, additional safety barriers were installed (in spite of the studies), siphoning money off from needed road maintenance, and the speed limit was lowered for a time (because ?????).
  • Example #2. Two teenage boys were driving on a 35 mph road that has a gentle curve (30º over 400 yards). It was during school hours, but the school doesn’t require them to go the last week anymore (state testing is over). They were speeding and didn’t make the curve. They hit a minivan (doing 35 mph) head on with their compact car and pushed it back 50′. Both boys were killed and the minivan driver paralyzed. The school held a hero’s memorial service for them. Their pictures and lives were told over and over again on local TV. The city held a memorial service for them later. Nothing was said about the minivan driver, just about the tragedy that took the lives of these young people. Is this going to promote safer driving practices, or does it just reinforce the idea that you can be as reckless as you want to be and if something happens, that is an “accident”?  In two similar wrecks in years past, the drivers have lived (although passengers died). The drivers were not prosecuted because they had “suffered enough” by being injured and seeing their friends die. They were held up as role models, like cancer survivors, of people who had suffered through tragic circumstances.

“Also, if you read the article, it is just the mother who claims the keys were left in the car (which makes it seem like they were in the ignition). Her child is in a coma; he probably didn’t tell her that. The car’s owner claimed the keys were in her purse (OK, that might have been in the car) and he would have had to go through her purse to find them. I think it is foolish to do this, but since I got married, I became aware that lots of women do it.

“In a related topic, should the child be prosecuted for stealing the vehicle despite his injuries? Should he or his parents be sued for the loss of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which the owner paid cash for, may not have full coverage on and (because it looks like a WK) may be worth $20,000? If not, why should the owner (or the customers of the owner’s insurance company) be forced to pay for this loss?”

Addendum to Michael’s comment: I wrote about the “He’s suffered enough” rationalization in a similar context here, and also here. I really hate it.

____________________________

Graphic: WTAE

11 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “How To Raise An Irresponsible and Dangerous Child”

  1. Not surprisingly, I’m with Michael: Validating a bad argument is inherently bad. It’s our duty to point out the problems with the mother’s comments.

  2. When a society de-legimitizes personal responsibility, and the necessity of accepting the consequences thereof, you end up with one which looks like…. well, contemporary American society. When hot coffee spilled on one’s lap, and getting out of the driver’s seat of the Winnebago to go back and get some coffee are supposed to result in unfortunate outcomes that are somebody else’s fault, what can you expect?

      • Yes, thanks, tgt—the McDonald’s case in particular is a special bugaboo of mine. I knew the plaintiffs attorneys involved, and the case is an example of the system working well. McDonalds admitted at trial that it settled hundreds of serious burn cases from the coffee every year, but refused to lower the temperature, saying, on the stand, that the cost of the damages was paid for easily by a few days of coffee sales…in essence, “Let ’em burn.” The plaintiff’s lawyers told the jury, “OK—come up with a verdict that means they can’t ignore the damages.” The temp was lowered, and nobody gets burned that badly any more.

      • Yes, thanks, tgt—the McDonald’s case in particular is a special bugaboo of mine. I knew the plaintiffs attorneys involved, and the case is an example of the system working well. McDonalds admitted at trial that it settled hundreds of serious burn cases from the coffee every year, but refused to lower the temperature, saying, on the stand, that the cost of the damages was paid for easily by a few days of coffee sales…in essence, “Let ’em burn.” The plaintiff’s lawyers told the jury, “OK—come up with a verdict that means they can’t ignore the damages.” The temp was lowered, and nobody gets burned that badly any more.

        • Yes, thanks, tgt—the McDonald’s case in particular is a special bugaboo of mine. I knew the plaintiffs attorneys involved, and the case is an example of the system working well. McDonalds admitted at trial that it settled hundreds of serious burn cases from the coffee every year, but refused to lower the temperature, saying, on the stand, that the cost of the damages was paid for easily by a few days of coffee sales…in essence, “Let ‘em burn.” The plaintiff’s lawyers told the jury, “OK—come up with a verdict that means they can’t ignore the damages.” The temp was lowered, and nobody gets burned that badly any more.

          From what I read, the criticism of the verdict was that that particular plaintiff was driving a vehicle while holding the cup between her knees, which was arguably assumption of risk.

          Such a verdict would have been much more defensible for a plaintiff who was similarly burned for merely spilling the coffee- let alone drinking it while sitting down.

          • The criticism was that the damages were excessive for her, but the damages were designed, as punitive damages are, to punish a blatantly negligent tortfeasor. McD’s knew that the coffee was dangerous and unnecessarily so, yet continued to sell it. You don’t assume a risk that you are unaware of. I’ve spilled coffee on myself many times, and a coffee seller is presumed to know that spills occur. I’ve never had third degree burns, nor should I assume them, nor should the plaintiff have known that a spill would cause injury.

            • “You don’t assume a risk that you are unaware of.”
              I wish that were so everywhere, but in my business, it’s a cardinal rule.

          • If you had followed the links, you would have seen that even the woman was a passenger in the car and the car was pulled over.

            And that’s from the people who catalog ridiculous lawsuits, and chose this case to name them after.

            Apparently, what you read was junk.

      • While I do appreciate further references regarding the issue at hand, my reading of the resource (http://www.stellaawards.com/stella.html), does suggest that McDonald’s WAS following recommendations of the National Coffee Association in keeping the coffee at the 185 degree range stated, and that the historically recorded incidence of significant injury relative to coffee cups sold was approximately 0.000004%. That the jury felt Stella to be only 20% at fault for holding a hot coffee cup between the legs is a bit weak in my opinion; simply holding such a cup in hand before placing it there should give one a clue that it’s very hot. It’s perhaps arguable that the McDonald’s fault might have been more appropriately placed at 20%, but it wasn’t, most likely because McDonald’s had “deep pockets” and “somebody has to pay” is the usual story. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it would have been a simple matter for McDonald’s to simply post a sign that says “caution: coffee is hot” after the first 10 injuries,for example.
        Urban legends aside, it would be disingenuous to believe that such inappropriate judgments, whether by judges or by juries, do not occur in the American justice system, or that such are not frequent enough to ask questions. A system in which there is no disincentive to sue for anything, because a plaintiff need not post bond to initiate a case in tort, would be expected to bring about such cases by pure logic alone. While I understand the point that intentional disregard for human safety, negligence, and other such matters should be addressed without a plaintiff’s concern for costs, the system in which there is NO responsibility for them on the part of plaintiff, and no effective disincentive for unscrupulous lawyers to take certain kinds of cases (not necessarily this particular McDonald’s case, but others) has clearly led to the “lottery mentality” in the American society, vis-a-vis the American legal system today. And one of the most dangerous threats to personal liberty, at the court level, and at the national legislative level, is a nation which produces too many lawyers in such a system, who need to find ways to feed themselves and their families.

        • That the jury felt Stella to be only 20% at fault for holding a hot coffee cup between the legs is a bit weak in my opinion; simply holding such a cup in hand before placing it there should give one a clue that it’s very hot.

          1. How hot is very hot?
          2. Coffee cups are insulated so you don’t feel how hot they are. Otherwise, people would be burning their hands on the cups.

          Nevertheless, it seems to me that it would have been a simple matter for McDonald’s to simply post a sign that says “caution: coffee is hot” after the first 10 injuries,for example.

          Yup.

          Urban legends aside, it would be disingenuous to believe that such inappropriate judgments, whether by judges or by juries, do not occur in the American justice system, or that such are not frequent enough to ask questions.

          You’re placing the burden of proof in the wrong place.

          A system in which there is no disincentive to sue for anything, because a plaintiff need not post bond to initiate a case in tort, would be expected to bring about such cases by pure logic alone.

          There are disincentives to sue. For starters, the cost.

          While I understand the point that intentional disregard for human safety, negligence, and other such matters should be addressed without a plaintiff’s concern for costs, the system in which there is NO responsibility for them on the part of plaintiff, and no effective disincentive for unscrupulous lawyers to take certain kinds of cases (not necessarily this particular McDonald’s case, but others) has clearly led to the “lottery mentality” in the American society, vis-a-vis the American legal system today.

          Why do you keep lying about the actual incentives and costs of suing?

          And one of the most dangerous threats to personal liberty, at the court level, and at the national legislative level, is a nation which produces too many lawyers in such a system, who need to find ways to feed themselves and their families.

          I wouldn’t say that. There are considerably more dangerous threats. Immunity of prosecutors and police. Failure to punish prosecutors and police when they behave badly. Judges that see themselves as part of the group that puts criminals behind bars (instead of people tasked with making sure everyone plays fairly). Not enough lawyers. Not being able to afford effective representation. Overcharging to generate plea bargains.

          Frivolous lawsuits fall way below abuse of the power of government.

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