Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Laws that seem to protect people from themselves

Rate this topic


miseleigh
 Share

Recommended Posts

I got into an interesting discussion with some family members about laws that seem to protect people from themselves - specifically, it is leagally required in Massachusetts for people to wear seat belts, and for motorcyclists to wear helmets (I don't know about other states). Now, obviously people who don't do these are simply stupid anyway, but my argument was that these laws prevent people from exercising their personal rights. My father, in particular, had a new view to offer which I hadn't thought of before (he agreed with me on my point, but still said these laws were unfortunately necessary.)

If a car hits a motorcyclist who is not wearing a helmet, without a helmet law he is (under our system) able to sue for all medical expenses relating to the accident, including head injuries, even though it was his own fault for not wearing a helmet. Without completely overhauling insurance practices or how 'blame' is determined in accidents, I can see why laws of this type might be necessary. I'm not saying that makes these laws right - I don't think they are - but I am wondering how a system would be set up that didn't require laws like these.

What I would like to see, in place of these individual 'you're not allowed to be dumb' laws, is a law that says 'If you're stupid, it's your fault'. In the case of a car/motorcycle accident, where the cause of the accident was an action of the car's driver, how would we protect him from the stupidity of the motorcyclist who didn't wear a helmet? Ideally, I think we would want something that says anything the motorcyclist could not have reasonably prevented is the car driver's fault and he should be recompensed for that, but any head injuries due to not wearing something as basic as a helmet would be his own fault, and payment for those medical bills should not be passed on to the car owner. Hopefully this law would also cover things like that woman who sued McDonald's (or whoever it was) because her coffee was hot and it burned her, or anybody who tries to sue for injuries on someone's property that were a result of their own stupidity and not a result of gross negligence on the property owner's part. Etcetera. There's a rampant epidemic of people suing others for things that are their own fault. :)

Ideas, anyone? 'If you're stupid, it's your fault' is just a little too broad to be at all effective...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If a car hits a motorcyclist who is not wearing a helmet, without a helmet law he is (under our system) able to sue for all medical expenses relating to the accident, including head injuries, even though it was his own fault for not wearing a helmet.
I am betting that the car driver must, at the very least, be responsible for the accident in such a case, and that there is no law in Mass. saying that "Anytime a bike hits a car, it's the car's fault". Assuming that, the biker has contributory negligence. He negligently failed to take ordinary precautions that a reasonable man would take to protect themselves against harm, and that omission on his part materially contributed to the resulting harm. So I think ordinary civil law answers this.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There's no guarantee that a helmet will protect you from head injury: it can HELP, certainly it may REDUCE the injury, but there's no helmet out there that will protect you from everything.

I explained this once to a police officer, very briefly, when I rode my bike down to the BMV to get my license renewed. He saw me and said, "Shouldn't you be wearing a helmet?" I responded: "I figure, if I get hurt, it's my problem." Not necessarily my fault, but my problem, in that I have to suffer the consequences. No amount of paying-your-medical-expenses is going to remedy permanent brain damage, after all. If a driver blindsides me, he's liable for whatever damage he causes . . . however I may choose to wear a helmet because liability doesn't mean the damage is reparable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Megan (reichlan),

I think you have two distinct issues there.

a. What is the best way to help prevent needless damage, and

b. How is responsibility properly adjudicated after the fact.

As to b. I'd go with David. I think that the law allows for apportionment of responsiblity between opposing parties, however, I am not sure what concept would be used to indicate that not wearing a helmet makes one partially liable for your injuries or if there is case law to this effect. Maybe a lawyer can help us.

As to a., well I think that that's none of government's business. There are private mechanisms to inform the public, to enforce standards which I think all work more effectively and to in the right priority.

Edited by KendallJ
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I may be wrong, but I believe that many states have no-fault laws that basically absolve both parties of liability, and force both insurers (if applicable) to pay up, regardless of who the moron is.

This is crappy because it hikes the rates of the responsible driver, it doesn't penalize the moron driver as harshly, and it eliminates any incentive whatsoever to drive carefully!

Another thing that hasn't been mentioned in this thread, which is very scary, is that laws saying you HAVE TO wear a helmet or seat belt, imply that you are the property of the state.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am betting that the car driver must, at the very least, be responsible for the accident in such a case, and that there is no law in Mass. saying that "Anytime a bike hits a car, it's the car's fault". Assuming that, the biker has contributory negligence. He negligently failed to take ordinary precautions that a reasonable man would take to protect themselves against harm, and that omission on his part materially contributed to theresulting harm. So I think ordinary civil law answers this.

I intended the proposed accident to be the car driver's fault, and not the motorcyclist's. I don't know anything about contributory neglicence; is there a law that addresses this? What does it actually say? If so, that puts the seatbelt law and helmet law entirely into the 'protect you from yourself' category. I had hoped there was a better reason than that behind those laws... :P

There's no guarantee that a helmet will protect you from head injury: it can HELP, certainly it may REDUCE the injury, but there's no helmet out there that will protect you from everything.

[...]

No amount of paying-your-medical-expenses is going to remedy permanent brain damage, after all. If a driver blindsides me, he's liable for whatever damage he causes . . . however I may choose to wear a helmet because liability doesn't mean the damage is reparable.

Of course liability doesn't mean the damage is reparable! However, whether it's reparable or not generally makes no difference to the restitution the driver would be forced to make. If you recieved head injuries during that accident that would likely have been prevented by a helmet, would you a) sue for medical expenses related to your newly cracked skull, or B) recognize that you should have been wearing a helmet and not sue for those bills? My problem, as a car driver, is that I don't want to pay for someone else's negligence, even if I'm the one who causes the accident. I will gladly do my best to pay for any damage that is actually my fault, but if the motorcyclist wasn't wearing a helmet, and a helmet would probably have kept his skull from getting cracked, I would want him to pay for the cracked skull that he should have prevented himself. To relate it to the seatbelt law - if someone dies in an auto accident because they weren't wearing a seatbelt, and everyone in that car who was wearing one lived, I believe that the one who died committed unintentional suicide rather than one of the drivers committing homicide. Under the law, though, this does not seem to be the case.

a. What is the best way to help prevent needless damage, and

b. How is responsibility properly adjudicated after the fact.

As to b. I'd go with David. I think that the law allows for apportionment of responsiblity between opposing parties, however, I am not sure what concept would be used to indicate that not wearing a helmet makes one partially liable for your injuries or if there is case law to this effect. Maybe a lawyer can help us.

As to a., well I think that that's none of government's business. There are private mechanisms to inform the public, to enforce standards which I think all work more effectively and to in the right priority.

Well, although both of these issues are related to the question I'm asking, I'm more interested in b., because I had the idea that most people on this forum would agree with your answer to a. I'd really like to find a better solution to making sure the right people are held responsible, without utilizing protection-from-self type laws such as the helmet law and the seatbelt law - the laws that protect you from yourself so that you can't sue others for your own mistakes. I don't want to be forced to wear a seatbelt, but I also don't want to be held liable for someone else's anti-seatbelt attitude.

I may be wrong, but I believe that many states have no-fault laws that basically absolve both parties of liability, and force both insurers (if applicable) to pay up, regardless of who the moron is.

[...]

Another thing that hasn't been mentioned in this thread, which is very scary, is that laws saying you HAVE TO wear a helmet or seat belt, imply that you are the property of the state.

Well, they don't imply that any more than the numerous other safety laws do, but that's why I want to find an alternative. I don't want to be protected from myself, and I don't want all the idiots out there to be protected from themselves, either, but I do want to be protected from them.

I think those no-fault laws are only supposed to apply when it really is nobody's fault, but that type of accident is probably a lot more rare than people try to claim.

To reword my question a little more clearly, what kind of laws could be put into place that don't force anybody to do anything but still protect people from each other's stupidity? To clarify my example: there is an accident which was the car driver's fault, but the motocyclist sustains head injuries that a helmet would have prevented. Who should pay for the medical bills pertaining to those head injuries, and how can that particular liability be enforced? (It is assumed that the car driver would pay damages for any injuries that the motorcyclist could not have reasonably prevented.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I intended the proposed accident to be the car driver's fault, and not the motorcyclist's. I don't know anything about contributory neglicence; is there a law that addresses this? What does it actually say? If so, that puts the seatbelt law and helmet law entirely into the 'protect you from yourself' category. I had hoped there was a better reason than that behind those laws... <_<
For the most part, there aren't statutes that directly addres these kinds of responsibility issues. For example, I doubt there is any statute in any state that says, if you drive your car through somebody's front window, you are responsible for the damages. That is part of common-law liability where A sues B because B has caused damage to A. So let's say that B is a lathe maker who sells a not well made lathe (built by B) to A. If the thing blows up and injures A then B is responsible for that damage, because of his negligence in manufacturing. But A may have run the lathe for too long, or at too high a speed, or done something else that partially caused the explosion: then A has contributed to the negligence, and the damage is not entirely B's fault. The strongest version of the concept is that if the injured party is was negligent to any extent, then the respondent cannot be found liable. In the helmet case, there is a similar concept "assumption of risk" that says you're not entitled to compensation if you voluntarily expose yourself to injury, knowing of the dangerous condition (and arguable, nobody can be so clueless about the dangers of riding a chopper without a helmet). But I think the way it works in most states (and there would no doubt be a statute to govern that), a bit of negligence on the injured party's part doesn't cancel the injuring parties liability (the concept of comparative negligence). What should happen (whether it does is another kettle of fish) is the highly negligent act of driving a motorcycle in the dark, speeding, with no helmet is seen to be 8 pts. of negligence, and failure to be sufficiently aware at a stop sign is 7 pts of negligence, leaving the car driven with no financial responsibility for the results.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...