Chelsea Hess was 20 years old when she walked into a South Carolina bar and ordered an alcoholic drink. The legal age for drinking in the state is 21, but the bar didn’t check her identification. On her way home, she drove her car off the road and is now a paraplegic. She’s suing the bar — because clearly the bar is responsible for her drinking and poor driving.
Hess’s lawsuit is emblematic of a trend for the last few decades of people looking for anyone else to blame for their troubles. We’re supposed to live in a risk-free and no-fault world, at least from the point of view of certain individuals. These people are so self-centered that they can’t be at fault. If something goes wrong in their world, someone else is to blame.
Contrary to what Hess believes, the folks at the bar aren’t her parents. The bar owner has a legal obligation to the state to obey its rules about alcohol sales, but that doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — make it responsible for her actions. If the state insists on fining the bar for failing to check her ID, that’s an administrative matter between the bar and the regulators. But it doesn’t mean the bar is responsible for the series of actions that Hess took that led to her own problems.
When I was a child, my father was an executive in the safety department of Southern Railway (which is now Norfolk Southern after a merger). Every now and then, he would have to get out of the office and travel in the cab of an engine to observe safety procedures. Even though these occasions were rare, he still saw serious safety violations — but they were mostly by the public, not by the engineers.
On one occasion, he saw a woman in a car drive part of the way across the tracks and then decide she couldn’t make it, so she backed up. Then she apparently decided the train wasn’t going as fast as she thought, so she decided to try to beat it anyway, so she sped forward. The train hit the car. I don’t recall the details, but I believe she was hurt badly and a couple of small children in the car were killed.
The woman sued the railroad and won. It seemed to make no sense to me, even as a child. “Juries are sympathetic to people who get hurt,” my father explained. “They figure the railroad has plenty of money, so they make the railroad pay, even though it wasn’t at fault.”
That seems to be where we are in society. People aren’t willing to admit their errors and take responsibility for fixing them — and for dealing with the consequences.
In the South Carolina bar case, Hess might win or not. The insurance company for the bar might settle out of court to avoid an expensive lawsuit. That’s hard to say. What’s easy to say, though, is that Hess is another person looking for someone else to blame. Whether she gets any money or not from this insane suit, she’s going to go through her life playing the victim.
Even if she’s a paraplegic, she can learn something from this tragic mistake — if she’ll take responsibility for it and deal with the consequences of it. Playing a helpless victim all of her life will just compound the tragedy of what she’s already done to herself.
Addendum: If you’re one of those who uses alcohol or any other recreational drug, remember to be responsible in your actions tonight. New Year’s Eve is a time when a lot of people make very poor decisions about such substances. Please be careful and responsible.