The hazard-free, infinitely safe society

The SE Texas Record Nov. 21, 2009, 6:32am

Remember when you could have fun playing even if it could be harmful?

There were paved playgrounds on which you could skin your knees, high open slides from which you could fall, wooden swing seats and seesaws full of splinters, and massive metal merry-go-rounds on which to fracture limbs.

Bicycle handlebars didn't have cushions. Helmets and kneepads didn't exist, and sharp sticks served as "swords" instead of flimsy plastic simulacrums.

That was then. An injury was something to be proud of. The kid with a broken arm was a celebrity, and everybody wanted to sign the cast.

Everybody wants to be safe. But nowadays, safe is never safe enough, and an accident is never an accident anymore. It's always someone's fault, and that someone is always someone other than the "victim." Now each day holds the promise of a "sue 'em" opportunity.

Our courts are full of such victims -- people who've slipped, tripped, or stumbled and cried foul.

Cheryl Knight is one of them. She tripped over a bin at the Orange Wal-Mart in July and is suing the store for failing to identify the "hazard."

"Defendant's employee negligently placed a small opaque storage bin . . . roughly the same color as the white tile in an [a]isle," her suit charges. "The bin was small and inconspicuous and not properly marked with warning signs or cones to alert patrons [to] its presence."

Knight is suing for past and future mental anguish, impairment, lost earnings, and pain, plus fees for attorney Gordon Friesz. Can't forget those fees.

Could it be that Cheryl wasn't looking where she was going and that she might have fallen over a warning cone, too, if one had been there? Maybe so. In our safety-obsessed society a warning sign often is as much of a hazard as the hazard itself.

Why not return to the good old days when people who had minor accidents didn't blame anyone but themselves. Instead, they did what that wonderful song recommended:

"Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again."

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