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How The World Wags

Jury of Peers
By Dave Kiffer

April 10, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Every so often a tiny bit of sanity floats up from the morass that is our insane world.

This week a jury in Massachusetts declined to blame an airline when a passenger claimed a bumpy flight caused "post traumatic stress disorder."

jpg Dave Kiffer

I know you're all thinking "well, duh!" But in the modern world, we have no personal responsibility. Everything that can be blamed on someone else will be blamed on someone else and a plague of attorneys will be unleashed on the unfortunate offender.

To be honest, I was kinda hoping the jury might go the other way. If anyone knows a thing or two about "bumpy" flights, it would be the residents of Ketchikan. If we could all claim "post traumatic stress syndrome" because of bad flying weather it would be a windfall greater than the Permanent Fund Dividend. It would also go a long way toward explaining our frequent lapses in judgment, among other things.

All you have to do is mention a recent bumpy flight and everyone else at the table launches into their most recent air "adventure." It's worse than bringing up a recent surgery.

"Our in-flight pretzels were bouncing off the ceiling...."

"A flight attendant landed in my lap....."

"The jet was like a bucking bronco...."

"A toddler barfed on my laptop....."

"We nearly missed the runway....."

"It was so foggy, we couldn't see the tips of the wings......"

Etc, etc, etc.

Face it, we have the best pilots in the world commanding our airways...but given the weather, they need all of that accumulated skill.

Unfortunately for my retirement fund, flying in bad weather is not a " recoverable damages" offense.

But that still means that a jury of my peers - great system, find 11 people as "lame-brained" as the defendant and he just may win - may just find in favor of me if take the following actions.

Spill hot coffee on my lap: It's obviously the fault of the fast food place that sold me the coffee in the first place. The coffee was too hot. The cup was too flimsy. And they should have put up a sign warning me not to put it in my lap unless I had Kevlar underwear. $2.5 million. $1 million to my spouse for "loss of consortium." (That's a good one. Just try asking your spouse if your "consortium" is worth $1 million)

Fall off the top rung of a step ladder: The ladder company is clearly at fault because they put a warning label telling me to stay off the top rung. They obviously were aware of the safety hazard and took no steps (pun intended) to fix it. $5.2 million.

Do something really stupid: Like get drunk (if I'm a minor) and sneak into a ski area after hours and start skiing in a posted out of bounds area. I crash and am paralyzed. It is obviously the ski area's fault because they didn't come up with a way of preventing me from doing harm to myself. It is what attorneys love to call an "attractive nuisance." $3.6 million.

All of these cases actually occurred. It's possible that some of the damage amounts got overturned on appeal. But the idea that a jury of one's peers bought the basic argument that someone else was at fault is pretty scary. The ski area situation happened in Valdez, so I better be careful about letting the neighborhood youth use our drive way for their ultimate skateboarding.

In the meantime, I'm going to sue the makers of this computer. The act of writing a SITNEWS column on it every week is leading to a "re-occuring sense of fear, helplessness and horror." Which sounds surprisingly similar to "post traumatic stress disorder!"

Now, all I need is a jury of my peers.

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Dave Kiffer ©2005

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