Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Death of Personal Responsibility, Part 3,271 

Update: On July 31st, Hancock's family pulled their heads out of their asses, and dropped their wrongful death suit.

A 29 year-old man with a blood alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit gets into his SUV and speeds down the highway. He isn't wearing a seatbelt, and he's talking on the cellphone, and he slams into a tow truck at the side of the road and dies.

Who's responsible?

In the real world, the answer would be, "The dumbass who drove drunk without a seatbelt, then sped while yapping on a cell phone." Apparently, Josh Hancock's father isn't living in the real world. He's not only suing the bar that served Hancock, but he's suing the driver of the tow truck, as well as the stranded motorist the driver was helping.

Yeah, uh... good luck with that.

I'll grant marginal contributory negligence points to the bar -- Hancock was a regular, came there after a day game and spent 3 1/2 hours, during which time he was reported to never be without a drink in his hand. But... no one at the bar twisted his arm, shoved him in his car and told him to drive off. No one told him to not wear a seatbelt. Nobody forced him to do what he did and die.

Hancock's father's case against the tow truck driver, Jacob Edward Hargrove, and the hapless stalled motorist, Justin Tolar, is even more dubious. What it boils down to is that Tolar shouldn't have been driving a crappy car that stalled, and Hargrove shouldn't have done what tow trucks normally do when there's a car stalled in traffic. Yes, that's right -- their major acts of negligence were being in the way of a blind-drunk, speeding asshole who was too busy with his cell phone to notice them.

For the record, the police report states that Tolar's car stalled after he spun out when another driver cut him off and he slammed on the brakes. I wonder if Hancock's father is going to try to track down that driver and sue them too.

Now, I can fully appreciate the pain of losing a son. I can also understand the natural reaction to try to place blame everywhere else. But I have no sympathy for Hancock's father, who is just being a litigious moron, clutching at straws and weaving the kind of lame arguments that are the essence of what have given liability suits such a bad reputation with the American public.

It's thanks to numbnuts like Hancock's father that people who are really hurt by negligence face increasing efforts by legislators everywhere to make it impossible to sue for real damages. They give the ammunition to lobbyists for insurance companies, corporations and other interest groups to wave at Congresscritters, demanding "tort reform". The trouble is, the evidence that gets waved is usually along the lines of, "A burglar fell through a skylight and sued for fifty million dollars." The parts that get ignored are usually always along the lines of "...and the judge laughed him out of court" or "...a jury awarded him one dollar."

I have faith in the legal system that most of Hancock's actions will be very quickly dismissed -- and, with any luck, he'll have to reimburse Hargrove and Tolar every penny they have to spend defending themselves. As for the bar, their liability should be determined as a criminal, not a civil, matter.

Did I mention that Josh Hancock was an MLB pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals? In other words, yet another athlete behaving badly. Perhaps, instead of suing everyone he can think of, Dean Hancock should be the one paying Hargrove, Tolar and the owners of Shannon's restaurant, to reimburse them for Josh Hancock doing far too little and most likely getting paid far too much.

It might teach professional athletes, their families and, maybe, everyone else the meaning of personal responsibility. Apparently, Dean Hancock is unclear on that concept.

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