Long ago, at an institution of higher learning far, far away, while working on my undergrad, I competed in forensics. For those of you unfamiliar with this, forensics is essentially a combination of public speaking and reader’s theatre events that are performed for competition. Teams travel, compete, and winners receive trophies. I still have my trophies from those good times. My choice events were persuasive and after-dinner speaking.
Somewhere during those competitions, I competed in the persuasive category with a speech advocating against lawsuit abuse. The phrase had become a sort of buzzword at the time, and I essentially stood on the grounds that it was a horrible waste of money and time. One of my attention-grabbing examples was of a particular lawsuit over the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” I remember finding that premise to be absolutely ludicrous.
And now, fast forward to present day…
In March of this year, a lawsuit was settled in West Virginia for a student who had died during gym class. The student apparently suffered from a heart condition. The mother sued both the local board of education and the county government for millions of dollars. Fast forward again to this month. A friend of mine who teaches told me that students at one local school district can no longer run a mile as part of their annual physical fitness test.
Once a school board is sued for such a huge amount of money, other school boards begin to react in fear, and rightly so. As the American legal system functions primarily on precedent in most states, they could stand to lose most of their financial assets should a similar situation occur. And, as we all know, education isn’t the best funded of our public services in any case. As a result, students are no longer encouraged to by physically active, and are given one more excuse for a victim mentality as yet one more activity is taken away from them. They are taught to be scared that something might happen to them, too, and gym teachers are prevented from doing their jobs because of one tragic event.
Here’s a sad American truth: our legal system causes knee-jerk fear reactions, because it cannot be navigated by the average citizen. A single mistake can result in a lawsuit that can relieve one of their life savings, future wages, and essentially everything else that they own.
Wait…how many of our elected politicians began careers by attending law school? Coincidence?
Okay, okay, before I start sounding like a conspiracy theorist, let me take this back a step further to the core philosophical issue that I think is at play here, an issue that would likely only be found in a capitalist culture. That issue is that a human life cannot be quantified by a monetary figure.
Two summers ago, I was involved in a car accident in which the other party was cited as being at fault. Their insurance paid me money for “pain and suffering.” I found this to be insane. Assuming that I had experienced pain, or that I had suffered, how was money going to change that? This is money that is awarded beyond payment of legitimate medical costs, and is essentially, in my opinion, a form of insurance in itself that they felt would prevent me from suing them for more money. Honestly, I’m still insulted at the unstated assumption that I would that.
Yet many would, because the proceedings that make attorneys their comfortable six-figure salaries also become a form of easy income or revenge for those who think they have been wronged (or can at least convince others that they have been wronged). Thus, the lowest common denominator does enormous damage to the quality of life of everyone else who feel the need to act preventatively lest they be sued, as well.
The loss of a child’s life to a senseless accident is unbelievably tragic, and I grieve for the mother and other family members. Legal consequences in the event of negligence (I’m not implying that this occurred, but merely using the example) would be understandable. Assigning a dollar amount as compensation for a child’s lost life, however, is the height of soulless materialism, because to do so says that a human being has only a finite, measurable worth. The natural conclusion of this would be that some, then, are worth more than others. This is a thought process that is absolutely unacceptable and unethical, yet is perpetuated by our broken legal system each time a lawsuit such as this moves through the channels.
As human beings, we are worth infinitely more than pieces of green paper with arbitrarily assigned numerical values can ever calculate. To pay a mother for the death of her son not only dishonors his memory, but also fails miserably to alleviate any pain or grief. Yet we continue to presume that this is exactly what can be accomplished.
Silly rabbit. When will we learn? The most important aspects of life cannot be purchased.
Photo Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dborman2/