Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sue the Chipmunk, Not Me

During a recent vacation to New Zealand, I was struck by the sense that New Zealanders, as a society, are more intelligent than Canadians.

Blasphemy. Treason. True?

I don't actually think that the Kiwis, as individuals, are more intelligent. We're probably all equal. It's the government of New Zealand that impressed me. I can't fine tune my argument with devastatingly conclusive examples as it was one of those gut feel situations. It felt like the government assumed that individuals would behave responsibly, and it gave them the benefit of the doubt. Liberal thinking like this fosters a climate where individuals take responsibility for their own actions.

Any examples that I could give might seem trivial, but collectively they left left me feeling that we, as Canadians, could do better. Heading south of the 49th parallel for a moment, do you remember the landmark 1994 trial which saw a woman successfully sue McDonald's after she burned herself from hot coffee? The jury awarded the plaintiff $2.86 million after spilling a cup of coffee on her crotch. Madness. Could that happen in the land of the Canadian beaver?

Yes, quite frankly, it could. I was listening to CBC radio this past Tuesday, when a story caught my ear. It was the tale of a New Brunswick man who successfully sued a cottage owner after he dove off the cottage owner's wharf and became paralyzed. I don't care to get into all of the details
(tragedies and liabilities..., but it's worth mentioning a few points from the story. The man dove off a wharf that he had never been on before, into water he didn't know, at 1:30 a.m., while drinking. A New Brunswick judge ruled in his favour, and found the property owners negligent. Apparently, they should have had a sign warning of the shallowness of the water.

The feedback to the radio broadcast was sympathetic to the cottage owner. Everyone felt badly for the paralyzed man but, at the end of the day, the consensus was that we need to take responsibility for our actions and accept the consequences of bad judgement. It seems so obvious, painfully so.

I guess that the judge and I attended different schools of thought. I don't want to see a sign posted every time there's a danger. There would be so many signs that we'd be tripping over them....and suing successfully for the resultant injuries. That would lead to signs warning about signs. Are you young and searching for a lucrative career choice? I'd recommend law, medicine or sign making.

I think we're in danger of becoming stupid, we may already be there. It's worthy of further discussion....why don't you drop by my house for a cup of coffee so we can discuss these issues?

When you come to my house, I want you to stop at the edge of the property and look up. You'll see many big trees. These trees have branches. Potentially, any of these branches could fall on your head. I could put up warning signs and offer you a hard hat. I also have a lawn. The very existence of a lawn suggests that it's safe to walk on, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There are many hidden dangers on my lawn, first and foremost are some chipmunk holes. The chipmunks, while developing their underground burrows, often cause depressions on the lawn. It's feasible that you could twist an ankle while walking on my lawn. If you were walking on my lawn with a hot coffee, you could twist your ankle, fall to the ground and subsequently burn yourself. Then a tree branch might fall on you.

For the twisted ankle, I'd suggest that you sue the chipmunk. For the coffee burn, sue the kettle manufacturer. For the tree branch....well, you were warned so don't even think about suing me. I'll kick your ass, literally, if you try to sue me. Don't like the thought of that? Sue the shoe company. My defence will be that I wouldn't kick you if I was in bare feet, therefore it's not my fault.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ian,

    It's your brand new Blog fan. I'm signing this anonymous because I don't know how to do this yet. But here I am, doing it. Brilliant, insightful piece. You had me at New Zealand.