Liability ruins everything. If you’re doing something really, really fun, chances are it’s because the person responsible didn’t think very hard about his liability. That’s how my local church group took the local young men down to someone’s farm and shot an old cannon at antique cars all day one day. That’s how Davis and Christian and I can spend and evening shooting bottle rockets and roman candles out of PVC pipes at each other. That’s how, when I was going to scout camps as a teenager, we spent one whole camp clinging to the tops of SUV’s as they drove at high speeds up and down a shallow river. These are some of the ‘fun’ highlights of my life, but any rational legal actor stays a million miles away from this stuff. Luckily, people forget about liability once in a while. But then there’s all those days when they don’t. That’s when liability wins, and we all lose.
I don’t know whose fault it is. A lot of people think it’s the lawyers, but let’s be honest, a lawyer is only as sleazy as the client he’s working for. Or at least he’s only as sleazy as he can get his client to let him be. Anyway, I didn’t ask that one lady to call me to try to hire me because her son was at Wal-Mart and he fell down in the bathroom because he slipped in poo. And the other guy who called because he found a mouse tail in his cola can. I’m the one who told him he’s got nothing. So it’s not all on the lawyers. It’s these crazy complainers that are pushing us all down the liability vortex, and the lawyers, at their worst, are just their accomplices.
Come on, you don’t honestly think people like this are making things worse, right?
But there’s a way out of this. Spending this weekend in Bear Lake with the family, Davis and I were talking about the air of simplicity that exists out here, and we came up with a fairly good rule: the farther out into the hinterlands you go, the more loosey-goosey everything gets, liability-wise. In my neighborhood in Salt Lake City, I will literally be dragged into Court if I put vinyl windows in my house without getting prior approvals from the neighborhood style counsel. People gasp when they see Macy and me walking around along our block when the kids are home in bed. Out here in Laketown, Utah, I’m pretty sure I could light Kook on fire and the rodeo kings that run this town would just throw firecrackers at him. And, as Davis has noted here before, cross the border to the South, and forget about it— they don’t have a word for ‘liability’ from Mexico on down.
We happened upon the Laketown Rodeo a couple nights ago. We enjoyed the usual sights of the local rodeo for a half hour or so, and then the announcer shook things up. “And now, if you want a chance to win some money, and you’re between five and nine years old, come on down into the arena.” All the people visiting from the city sort of looked around in confusion. Meanwhile, all the local kids were already standing on the dirt in the ring cracking their knuckles and licking their lips between spits of tobaccy. With a little consternation, we cajoled our kids down through the stands, and they took their places in the rodeo ring, a step behind the local cowboy kids. And there they stood, an army of some 150 kids, ages five to nine, standing on the furrowed dirt, facing a livestock gate, and having absolutely no idea what was going to come out of it. It might have been Rancor, from Return of the Jedi, for all we knew. The MC hadn’t said a thing about what was going to happen next. I looked around to see if they were passing waiver forms down the rows in the bleachers for all the parents to sign, but they never came.
The MC told us that we were about to see the kids’ calf rustle. A calf would be running through that gate, and whatever kid could grab the ribbon from his tail would win the prize purse and the trophy. Go. I watched our kids tense with excitement and I knew they were only down there because they trusted that we wouldn’t send them if it wasn’t safe. And I only sent them because I knew that the Laketown Rodeo wouldn’t just call them down there if it wasn’t safe. But then you sort of sit up and realize you’ve put your kids’ lives in the hands of some rodeo announcer in crazytown Utah, the same rodeo announcer that just saw a young man in his prime thrown from a crazy horse onto a fence and just kept up a stream of light-hearted prattle while his family hovered over him as he shook on the ground. So maybe the circle of trust was a little loosey-goosey.
Seriously, you don’t think that thing could do some damage to a five year old, running at full speed? Yeah, me neither.
Then the calf came charging through the gate. A swarm of kids looked around at each other and then realized they were game, and just descended on that poor calf. He was game too, and gave them a good chase. Rex came within ten feet at one point, and I could tell he was loving the chase but wouldn’t get any closer than that even if he could. After the best two minutes of that whole rodeo, a thick local cow-kid dove at the calf’s hind-quarters and came up with a ribbon. Our kids walked off the field looking a little dazed, still not believing that they were allowed to be in a ring with an angry two-hundred pound calf, let alone chase him around like he was a barnyard hen. Yes, it was just a calf, but watching him jerk around out there, it was very clear that he could really hurt a kid. But the Laketown Rodeo is betting he won’t. It’s an entertaining bet.
I was tempted to call up the rodeo afterward and offer my legal services. Maybe a little advice, perhaps a posted disclaimer notice at the front gate? But then I realized that maybe they’re in the clear. After all, some snot-nosed brat from Salt Lake takes a hoof to the face, do you know who’s going to be deciding his case? A bunch of jurors from Laketown, and Garden City, and Wellsville. A Salt Lake jury gives him a million bucks, plus costs and attorneys’ fees, and maybe a scholarship. Up here, they probably give him another kick in the face. Life’s better where there’s no liability. Unless you’re the one representing the snot-nosed brat. Then the good folks of Laketown, Utah have some serious explaining to do.