Watch your steps

The SE Texas Record Sep. 1, 2007, 5:00am

They couldn't talk about it in court, but we can.

That's the fact that people like Flo Wilson, the allegedly clumsy woman who sued after tripping on a step in the Christus-St. Elizabeth hospital parking garage, indirectly drive up the cost of everything for everyone.

Wilson sued the Beaumont non-profit, charging she didn't trip because she herself was being careless, perhaps not looking at the ground on which she was walking but up ahead, scanning for her car.

No, this trip-and-fall was Christus St. Elizabeth's fault. The hospital could have prevented Flo's spill, had it painted a bright yellow line that would have warned her.

Warned her about the step, that is. The one on which Flo stumbled and broke her hip.

Last week, a Jefferson County jury ordered Christus St. Elizabeth to pay Flo $723,000 for her spill.

That may sound like a lot, but she had asked for even more, including some cash consideration for her husband, James. He suffered through life without, among other things, his wife's "household services" during her recovery, according to the couple's complaint.

We can imagine the horror of having to wash one's own clothes, or do one's own dishes.

Life is full of bright yellow lines these days because of people like Flo Wilson. We're warned about everything by everyone, lest a customer or stranger or friend or even relative get angry with us and threaten to "call Walter Umphrey."

These warnings help businesses look more sympathetic to juries when they get sued. But they don't make us safer. To the contrary, they beget a general false sense of security that drives folks like Flo to carelessness.

Because we figure someone else is always taking care of us, or someone else-- strong-armed by "Walter Umphrey," perhaps-- will simply pay us if our lives go astray, we stop watching where we are going. We stop taking care on the steps, crossing the street or strolling the sidewalk.

We stop taking care of ourselves and we start blaming others-- often ordering them to pay-- for our own accidents or mistakes.

So before you congratulate Flo and James for hitting the jackpot, a word of warning. Check your own pocketbook. $723,000 checks have to come from somewhere, and last we checked, they don't grow on trees.

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