Friday, October 29, 2010

Definition of negligence, please?

Check this out: you can sue a 4 year old for negligence if the child crashes into a senior citizen while riding a bicycle with training wheels causing injury leading to death. If that's negligent enough to merit a lawsuit, then what escapes this criterion for what constitutes negligence (other than acts committed by a child less than 4 years old)?

During soccer matches, heart attacks are more likely. Are players negligent because their playing leads to death of others? Or are TV stations negligent for knowingly broadcasting the game? Or are TV manufacturers negligent for creating devices that are too realistic, which lead to excessive stress and death? Is the dead viewer negligent because they committed suicide?

What if the person suffering the heart attack was a train driver listening to the game on the radio? Is the deceased guilty of involuntary (negligent) mass manslaughter because the train did not stop at a signal? Or are the train line managers negligent for not installing proper fail safe train stop devices?

Basically everything you eat or drink has some substance that makes you sick. For example, tap water has traces of several prescription drugs. Are you negligent for drinking? Are the drug companies negligent for not making the drugs biodegradable? Are the municipalities negligent for not filtering the water enough? What about the bottled water companies that merely bottle tap water, are they negligent too? Are those that throw out prescription drugs in the garbage (landfills) or toilet / sink (sewer) negligent?

Assume you vote for someone that does something that in the end is a bad idea. Are you negligent for voting "wrong"? In other words, let's say that in the 2100 elections the Politicians United Party's candidate is elected president, and that during the tenure the PUP's president decides to raise taxes to 200%. Are all PUP voters negligent for voting in this president? What about the opposition, those who voted the Allied Politician Party? Are all APP voters negligent for not winning the election against the PUP? Or, on the flip side, are APP voters now proven non-negligent because their candidate was better, even if the candidate did not get a chance to perform and prove to be a better choice? Does that prove PUP voters were negligent? Or are PUP voters proven non-negligent because the APP's candidate had negligently promised to increase the retirement age to 100?

Hindsight is always 20-20, but there is more than that. The issue is one of expectations. IME, the more you learn about different things, the more you see you cannot take things for granted. In particular, you cannot take impeccable performance as a given. We're merely human, and we make mistakes. So where is this expectation of perfect behavior coming from? Is that even reasonable to begin with? And don't forget that the only way to stop making mistakes at your job is to not do your work.

But what about the senior citizen run over by a 4 year old on a bicycle? Should we think the senior citizen was negligent for not having bodyguards? Why wasn't the senior citizen equipped with a siren / rotating light hat to make children riding bicycles aware of the road hazard? Why wasn't there a slow moving vehicle sign attached to the senior citizen's clothing? Why wasn't the estate of the senior citizen (the plaintiffs in the lawsuit) concerned enough with the senior citizen so as to provide a safe environment for the senior citizen to walk in?

The issue is that if you push the argument too much, then you prove everyone is negligent, the term "negligent" loses its meaning... and everyone can sue everyone else for negligence. That does not seem like a desirable conclusion, so maybe we need to look at things differently. So, is the lawsuit's matter ultimately an issue of taking risks (getting run over) in exchange for quality of life (being able to walk on your own) instead? If so, why is negligence in the picture at all?


Friedrich said...

Well some day some people will be sued for breathing.

SCJ said...

So, if this goes to trial, this girl's conduct will be weighed against that of a "reasonable" 4-year-old.

How the heck do we know how a "reasonable" 4-year-old behaves?

Also, in the law of negligence, the "reasonable person" standard applies to adults, regardless of their mental capacity and their ability to actually conform to that standard.

Yet the conduct of children is compared to a "reasonable" child of the same age.