Sunday, August 22, 2010

Personal versus corporate/governmental responsibility

A few of the leaders on the Boy Scout trip my son took over the weekend got into an interesting debate last night -- it centered around personal versus corporate/governmental responsibility. (And I lump the last two together because the conversation covered both entities simultaneously.)

The issue came up because the falls where his troop visited was very slippery in places. Each of the adults recounted seeing at least one person take a nasty tumble, with the rocks acting like ice would in winter -- one wrong step and down you went.

Perhaps the most harrowing fall occurred when a young father tumbled while holding onto to his baby. One of our leaders recounted watching the man twist his body as he fell so as to ensure he was between the baby and the rocks. For the record, and for what it's worth, your favorite blogger had a hard time keeping his balance and he wasn't moving with near the speed or purpose of the people around him.

And so the issue developed -- what responsibility did the state of Maryland (we were visiting a state park) have to ensure its visitors were safe? One strand of argument went this way: There were signs at various places (for the record I don't recall seeing one but that's not to suggest they were not there) indicating that everyone who entered the water did so at their own risk.

That strand of argument was met by this one: No matter how much signage is there, couldn't the state be considered negligent for not providing a safe place for its visitors?

One leader -- who fell into the personal responsibility camp -- noted that the legal structure in the United States has moved toward protecting the lowest common denominator. Hinted, though not stated, in that message was that the least intelligent/cautious/responsible in our society were benefiting from laws that were preventing millions of people from enjoying themselves.

In other words, in an effort to not be sued, a variety of corporate and governmental entities were significantly reducing or all together eliminating activities for the public.

Nonsense, the other side argued. Laws were there to ensure that the public was not taken advantage of by entities with deeper pockets or more committed people representing them. For this side, the issue came down to the state (or any other hosting agency) had to provide reasonable safety for its guests, no matter how many signs were posted.

I think there is a parallel here, and read through the end of this section before drawing a conclusion. Say I am walking through a dark parking lot during a winter month and following snow. If I slip on ice that had formed that day, am I responsible for my "accident"?

"The water on those falls and the rocks that are with them and everything else associated with them are acts of God," one of the leaders said last night. "Whatever is causing people to slip is not caused by man. You can't hold him responsible."

So, who is correct? Is the moss, or whatever it is, causing the slippery conditions at those falls the responsibility of the state to clear up? And if it can't, then what should it do? Shut it down?

And then consider my question about ice. Who would be responsible for any injury from my fall?

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