Liability Ruins Everything

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.

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11 Responses to Liability Ruins Everything

  1. Alesa says:

    What a great way to start a week. I totally miss the days of piling into my leaders trucks on the way home from YWs. Yes, those were the days, when I didn’t know you could be sue for every little thing. What a great post.

  2. Gina says:

    Brilliant. My husband is working through law school right now and so I hear the lawyers’ side of things on a regular basis. At the same time, we are trying to raise Free Range Kids, and that takes a fair amount of trust in the world and assumption of responsibility for our own actions.

    Not all liability needs to be removed, but a whole lot of it. You’re right- sometimes the most questionable things are the greatest things.

  3. Elisa says:

    My Dad grew up in Laketown (his sister and their 900 clan members still live there) and I actually rode a bucking calf in that rodeo. I shudder at the thought.

    I won’t mention the time when we had a contest to see how many bottle rockets it would take to launch a plastic Pooh-Bear into the air (10) or when we then HELD the aforementioned bottle-rockets and Jefe’s shirt caught on fire.

    Thank heaven’s he’s not an attorney. Oh wait. He is. Never mind. I guess I’ll just sue myself.

  4. InkMom says:

    Let me lead off by stating how proud I am to be a native of the state that elected John Edwards to public office. Yeah. “Proud.”

    One word: trebuchet

    My brother’s best friend is the son of a respected physician here in town. He lives out in the country a ways and he and his son built a trebuchet that, much to the joy of preteen-mentalitied boys everywhere (including every male I am related to, regardless of age), they use to launch pumpkins, hay, pork roasts, and whatnot across the cornfield by his house. They’re pretty accurate with that thing, but I have noticed a few divots in the pavement of the road where it curves around the far side of the field. God help you if you see a giant medieval contraption swinging it’s arms about the next time you’re headed down to the river.

    In other words, right on, man. The boonier the better.

  5. Braden says:

    Ry, awesome post. I have to say that life was so much better before all this liability junk started. I’m glad there are still pockets of wonderful insanity left in the world. And I’m happy I grew up when wearing seatbelts was a good idea but not a federal case.

  6. Wade says:

    Ibapah, Utah is 100 miles from the nearest liability. Its awesome. Wanna shoot a gun? just don’t aim it at any windows. Wanna ride a four-wheeler by yourself? As long as you are tall enough to reach the handle bars. Wanna get a close view of some cattle branding? Just walk on up, oh but you might want to wear jeans in case the brands brushes your leg as your standing there. Also, if you’re under age 10, you are encouraged (obligated in fact) to ride the bucking calves as they get up from their moments of torture.

  7. Ben Pratt says:

    Ahh, to live in a place sort of like Laketown, where one can be free from the cold-hearted selfishness of liability concerns. But at what cost? Not much, really: a firecracker-induced amputation here, a calf-kicked nose there.

    I know what I’d go for. Freedom!

  8. Norm says:

    Soooo true, Ry.

    Have you ever driven a car in a third world country? There is no better driving experience. Anything you’ve ever wanted to do behind a steering wheel is fair game. You want to turn without waiting for that annoying stop light? Go ahead. Not enough room on the street to get by? Try the side walk. Do whatever you want and no one even notices let a lone cares. Here in the States if you get withing a hundred miles of cutting someone off and they erupt in a fit of rage.

  9. Ryan says:

    Alesa, yes, the ride in the back of someone’s pickup truck has now gone the way of the dinosaurs. RIP.

    Gina, the idea of responsibility for one’s actions just goes hand in hand out in the country. And it has honestly become all but extinct in the city. There are good reasons for that, given that other peoples’ actions have a lot more of an impact on you when you live in a city, but still, you’d think we’d still teach our kids that lesson anyway, because it’s kind of fundamental, you know? I love the “Free Range Kids” idea. I wanted to raise my kids that way. But living in the city, we’re going for Organic, Fair Trade Kids, with a hint of Green Tea.

    Wow, everyone, Elisa is a rodeo star. I kind of think I always knew that.

  10. Ryan says:

    InkMom: I am definitely using “The boonier the better” from now on. What a great line. My mail-order Trebuchet kit is already on its way. Pork roasts? Seriously? Wow.

    Braden, a rule of thumb: If it’s a good idea, it will ALWAYS end up a matter of federal law.

    Wade, seriously, when are we moving to Ibapah. And what’s with those kids only making it a half a second on the calves? You know we could have done better.

    Ben- don’t you think all those kids without fingers are having TONS more fun than our kids are?

    Colorado, great story. I’m still a little baffled about the prize- A blowup pool? Kind of awesome, but a little random, no?

    Norm, I always felt like driving in a Portugal combined all of the best elements of video games with only the best parts of real life. It’s the perfect mix.

  11. Ryan says:

    Speaking of trebuchets- here’s some nice video to illustrate the awesomeness (and a laudable refusal to consider liability as well)

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