Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Litigation Based Decisions – Myth?

Posted by bsflag2007 on Friday, February 23, 2007

The HoCo Conservancy and the HoCo Dept of Recreation and Parks cosponsored a talk by Richard Louv, author of a book called LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS ,  about what he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder”  on February 4.

Basically Mr. Louv talked about “how the healthy development of today’s children is hampered by limited exposure to nature,”  designing more natural playgrounds and play areas in urban areas, and encouraging today’s crop of young parents, who may not have been exposed to the outdoors as children either, to get out – get moving – and interact with nature.    If you missed the presentation – check it out in reruns on the HoCo Government Channel (if you can find it).

The really interesting thing came in the question period.  A woman was trying to make a point about parental fears and inexperience with nature interfering with kids getting exposure to available opportunities, like scout camping opportunities – particularly in bad weather.  She then began a mini rant about the “efforts to fence in Lake Elkhorn” and how appalling the entire concept was.

[For the record — the problem with Lake Elhorn and fencing is not the anti-nature, overzealous,  no personal responsibility movement this woman and others like to get hyperplectic about.

It is a question of whether a community that decides to build a playground to attract very small children on the banks of a body of water should also make reasonable provisions to secure the area designated for the small children.     I think the proposal was to fence in the play area —- not necessarily the lake.  But hey, if it gets people overheated to focus on the extreme …. have a ball. ]

Mr. Louv – in a most impressive display of thoughtfulness and  insight (imho) latched on to what I consider the more important theme —- the “myth” of an overly litigious society which fuels decision making in the name of fear of litigation instead of sound risk management.

Mr. Louv suggested that choosing not to do certain things using fears of exposure to litigation is often a baseless excuse.

I think he is right.  Not just when it comes to fences and playgrounds, but school and education issues — you name it.  It is soooo easy to say, “oh, we shouldn’t try that, we might get sued….”

Heaven forbid we take a good look at the proposal, weigh the pros and cons, calculate the costs and the risks and make every effort to be reasonably cautious while living a full life.

People don’t really sue willy nilly over every little thing —- and those who try  get the boot out of court pretty quickly.   “Baseless claims”  being baseless, and all.

Using the Lake Elkhorn example again — instead of taking a reasonable look at the particular playground, in  light of the “true fact” that a child did, in fact, wander away and drown (even though all other applicable rules and laws were being followed) …. and come to a reasonable conclusion about how to address this particular site and particular circumstances — analysis paralysis set in.

The hand wringers worrying about the “message” or the “precedent” putting a fence around the tot lot “might” set got it in their heads that if one fence went up hundreds of fences would have to be put up, and eventually we’d have to bubble wrap all kids… at tax payer expense.

Not just ridiculous — but a good example of the myth of an overly litigious society fueling namby pamby decisions and policies.  Yes, I said namby pamby.

Cindy Vaillancourt

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4 Responses to “Litigation Based Decisions – Myth?”

  1. pzguru said

    I agree with you. I would like to add, though, that even though people who file baseless lawsuits will certainly lose in court, the problem with our current legal system is that they are not required to pay the legal bills of the victor. That is why people fear being sued. You can win, but you might have to bankrupt yourself to defend yourself against a frivolous lawsuit. The people with tons of money can often sue even when they are wrong, yet still win because they can outspend the other party. The legal system needs some serious tort reform to require the loser to pay the winner’s court cost.

  2. Freemarket said

    Cindy and PZG- right on, right on, a thousand times right on!

  3. bsflag2007 said

    And the “people” with the most money —- the government —- get to use our money to outspend, outwait, out lawyer, us. I think a good case can be made that the government is more litigation happy than the regular citizen — because they aren’t spending their own money.

    Though really — for all the hype about how many people are supposedly so litigation happy — I don’t believe it. I’d rather have a root canal than be involved in a lawsuit, even when I’m definitely in the right and have been wronged. (don’t get any ideas)

    But it is often a convenient excuse for policy decisions. Look (again) at the HCPSS litigation decisions. Just last week was another story of Mark Blom proceding with litigation (using our money) against HoCo families — which he LOST (again).

    Blom’s argument was that we need to keep people from illegally moving their kids into HoCo schools by assigning guardianship (and custody) to local families.

    In this case – however – the kid would have gone to Wilde Lake High School if his guardianship had not been legally granted to a River Hill family. Last time I checked, Wilde Lake High School was a Howard County High School – so that argument was, uhhhh, invalid.

    (If they want to argue about athletic eligibility and residency rules then keep it on point – maybe the Sun got the details wrong…. but I doubt it)

    But as PZGURU points out, the families involved incurred legal fees – even though they won.

    CV

  4. Amy Gahran said

    Hi, bsflag

    Apologies for this off-topic comment, but we’ve been trying unsuccessfully to reach the editor of the Howard County MD Blog by e-mail.

    J-Lab, The Institute for Interactive Journalism, is compiling a new online citizen journalism directory – part of the new KCNN.org citizen journalism resource site. We wanted to try once more to gather information on the Howard County MD Blog for this directory.

    Please take five minutes to fill out a brief online survey so we can include your site (for free).

    Here is our survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=654963192812

    DEADLINE: We need your response by Monday, Feb. 26. This is your final opportunity to be included in the debut version of this directory.

    Due to respondents’ suggestions, we have restructured this survey so that all questions now appear on one web page. We also have reduced the number of required fields. So if you hesitated to respond before, please check out the revised survey.

    Our survey requests descriptive information that will allow us to categorize your site, location information to place it on our Google Map navigation interface, and contact information for our internal use only (to keep the directory updated).

    This online citizen journalism directory is sponsored by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland, as part of a forthcoming Knight Citizen News Network initiative, and by the Center for Citizen Media, jointly affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Law School.

    Please help us track the rise of citizen journalism.

    Questions: e-mail me at amy@ireporter.org

    NOTE: If you’re responding after Feb. 26, the above survey link may not work. Please e-mail amy@ireporter.org for an updated survey link.

    Thank you,

    Amy Gahran of I, Reporter, on behalf of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism

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