I was very disappointed in John Hoff’s column on Oct. 23. The idea that people aren’t responsible for their own actions is a huge problem in American society. Blaming the owners of an abandoned building for an injury or death suffered while trespassing is like blaming McDonald’s for our overweight children or blaming professors for our lack of initiative in class.
Every time we do this, we buy into the culture of “nothing is really my fault.” Sure, it’s great that liability can encourage corporations and businesses to work more safely and provide better products, but why must this come at the cost of protecting us from ourselves? Do Americans really lack the self-control to stay out of a dangerous building? Are we really so stupid that we can’t understand basic concepts like “fire hot,” “knife sharp,” or “crumbly floor bad?”
Judging by some of the lawsuits I’ve seen, we are indeed that stupid and irresponsible. If your child drowns at the beach, the city is at fault. If you burn yourself on coffee, the store is at fault. If a product is not equipped with dozens of safety devices and warning labels, it’s obviously too dangerous to be on the market. If someone, like Germain Vigeant, chooses to drink underage and to visit a dangerous building at night, apparently their fate is the responsibility of whoever’s property they end up on.
We’ve helped create a country where the toys we grew up with are illegal or “too dangerous,” where people are assumed to be idiots with no sense of self-preservation and where frivolous and ridiculous lawsuits waste millions of dollars in taxpayer and industry dollars.
Do we really want a culture where some outside agent is always responsible for the results of our actions? Do we want to teach our children that “No, that burn wasn’t because you touched the stove, it’s because the company made a bad stove.” Or that a stubbed toe gets a kiss from mommy and a million dollars from Nike?
Do we really want that careless, “not-my-fault, someone-else-needs-to-pay” attitude in our future coworkers and employees? In our doctors? Our soldiers? Our government leaders?
The only people who benefit from such an attitude are lawyers too lazy to find cases of real value. I’d rather see educators and commentators encouraging responsibility and personal accountability and inspiring people to make informed, sober decisions on issues that could affect their life and those of other people.
Living near the Bunge Mill, I happen to know that the company did make an effort to keep curious people out. The building was secure for a few days at a time, until vandals, scrap thieves or graffiti-taggers smashed a window, cut a lock or otherwise forced an entrance.
Even after Vigeant’s death, with brand new locks, welds and security patrolling the building, I saw new graffiti and new vandalism appearing every few weeks.
Should Germain Vigeant’s family seek compensation from the anonymous vandals who made the building accessible? And should those people in turn sue the owners for any crowbar-related injuries or paint fume illness they suffered? After all, that building was just asking to be smashed open; they couldn’t help it.
Gabe Emerson is a University graduate student. Please send comments to [email protected]