Lawyers took our diving board.

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Corlyss_D
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Lawyers took our diving board.

Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Jun 23, 2006 10:33 pm

Off the Deep End
Lawyers took our diving board.

BY STEVE MOORE
Friday, June 23, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

I'm now an official victim of the trial lawyers. So are my kids and the 800 members of our community pool that opened this summer without a high diving board.

The three-meter board had been a fixture of our pool at Chesterbrook Swim Club in Fairfax County, Va., for as long as anyone can remember. But the county has declared that it can no longer afford to pay the liability insurance for it--and so we've been grounded.

Most of the parents and kids share my disappointment at being cheated out of one of the great joys of summertimes past. No high board means no more "atomic" cannonballs, can openers, jack knives and watermelons, the kind of attention-grabbing dives that boys love to perform, sending a quarter of the pool's water spraying onto unsuspecting sunbathers nearby. And no more graceful teenage girls either, performing double flips with a twist, entering the water with hardly a ripple.

So why can't we just have a sign that reads: "Jump off this board at your own risk"? Some of our club members, many of whom are lawyers, say the elimination of the high board is for the safety of "the children."

And not just the children in Fairfax County, mind you. Diving boards are disappearing across America. The insurance industry says that most pool-construction companies won't even install the boards anymore out of fear of lawsuits. Texas lawmakers earlier this year enacted a de facto prohibition on diving boards by making the safety standards so stringent that few existing pools can meet them without spending millions of dollars. (The law would require, for instance, that the deep end be made several feet deeper.) As Dallas Magazine informed its readers a couple of weeks ago: "You can kiss your cannonball goodbye."

But why? Has there been an epidemic of diving accidents? I asked that question of our own pool manager. He assures me that the number of serious high board injuries at Chesterbrook pool since it was first erected more than 20 years ago is exactly zero. Under a rational insurance model, our premiums should be going down, not up--after all, we've proved that we're not a gang of drunk divers.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission calculates that there are about 50,000 serious injuries or drownings at pools each year. That's a big number. But diving board accidents are actually rare. Hard data are difficult to come by, but Pool and Spa News estimates that, out of the millions of jumps and dives off high boards each year, there are, on average, fewer than 20 spinal injuries. Most head injuries actually occur from people diving off the pool's ledge into the shallow end. Diving boards actually reduce these types of injuries because they visually tip off swimmers about which end of the pool is deep. Moreover, the number of annual injuries from diving boards is a fraction of the number from bicycles, playgrounds, tackle football, bungee jumping, skiing and even walking across the street.

Which brings us back to the trial lawyers. Diving accidents may be rare, but when they occur, lawyers become relentless in their quest for a jackpot jury verdict. In one famous 1993 case, a 14-year-old boy in Washington state took a "suicide dive"--headfirst with no arms out for protection--off the board of a neighbor's pool. He was tragically paralyzed from the neck down when he hit his head on the bottom of the pool. Despite the boy's own unsafe behavior, the parents' legal team sued every imaginable party--the neighbors, the pool-construction company, the diving-board manufacturer, the pool industry--and the family won a $10 million jury award.

Ever since, it's been off to the races. Even cases in which there is no negligence on anyone's part can lead to jury awards of $5 million or more. The plaintiff attorneys often walk off with up to half the loot. "This day and age, you can pretty much sue anyone for anything if there's an injury involved," a spokesman from the Pool and Spa Institute tells me.

But the diving-board dilemma is not just a legal matter; it's a cultural one. We Americans have become so risk averse when it comes to our children that we now see unacceptable dangers from even the most routine activities. We have created peanut-butter-free school zones, "soft" baseballs, army figures without guns, parks without seesaws, and full body armor for bike riding.

It's not even clear that all these risk-reducing measures keep us safer. The research shows that boys will be boys (the vast majority of sporting accidents involve young males). If they can't get their thrills from diving boards, they will find other risky activities.

When I was in college, I lived in a two-story apartment complex with a pool in the middle. There was no diving board, so we climbed on the roof--sometimes drunk--took a running start, leaped across 10 or 15 feet of cement walkway and plunged into the pool. It was incredibly dangerous and incredibly exhilarating. And we did it not even knowing that, if we undershot and broke our necks, we would have had grounds for a million-dollar lawsuit.

Mr. Moore is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.
Corlyss
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Re: Lawyers took our diving board.

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Jun 24, 2006 7:28 am

Corlyss_D wrote:Off the Deep End
Lawyers took our diving board.

BY STEVE MOORE
Friday, June 23, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
....
Which brings us back to the trial lawyers. Diving accidents may be rare, but when they occur, lawyers become relentless in their quest for a jackpot jury verdict. In one famous 1993 case, a 14-year-old boy in Washington state took a "suicide dive"--headfirst with no arms out for protection--off the board of a neighbor's pool. He was tragically paralyzed from the neck down when he hit his head on the bottom of the pool. Despite the boy's own unsafe behavior, the parents' legal team sued every imaginable party--the neighbors, the pool-construction company, the diving-board manufacturer, the pool industry--and the family won a $10 million jury award. ...
Our neighborhood swim club also eliminated its high diving board, which I regret. But let's keep in mind that the trail lawyers would not pursue these cases in the absence of clients who believe that they are entitled to compensation for any injury, regardless of responsibility, and juries which go along with this philosophy.

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Post by Ralph » Sat Jun 24, 2006 7:53 am

"But the diving-board dilemma is not just a legal matter; it's a cultural one. We Americans have become so risk averse when it comes to our children that we now see unacceptable dangers from even the most routine activities. We have created peanut-butter-free school zones, "soft" baseballs, army figures without guns, parks without seesaws, and full body armor for bike riding."

Yes, it's easy to blame trial lawyers but lawsuits are driven by people who believe they deserve compensation for injuries (and often they do).

Insurance rates for diving boards, and pools in general, have gone up. Whether insurance is affordable is a decision that private clubs and municipalities must make.

In fact, if a pool operator posts clear signs and requires, as my town pool does, that a test be taken before diving privileges are granted there is little risk of successful lawsuits for injuries.

In a culture in which TV commercials feature truly bizarre stunts with a now common "Do Not Attempt" legend at the bottom of the screen we need to recognize that WE support litigation as a compensation mechanism and that lawyers and courts keep this going. Any relief? Sure. We can limit damages as some states have done. But recognize that civil litigation is as American as lemon meringue pie.
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Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 24, 2006 2:38 pm

Ralph wrote:We can limit damages as some states have done. But recognize that civil litigation is as American as lemon meringue pie.
Yeah? Well so is individual responsibility and "assumption of the risk." Damn courts and damn government is so busy saving me from myself that people never say any more "You had it comin', dummy. Dont' be so stupid next time."
Corlyss
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Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Sat Jun 24, 2006 3:27 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
Ralph wrote:We can limit damages as some states have done. But recognize that civil litigation is as American as lemon meringue pie.
Yeah? Well so is individual responsibility and "assumption of the risk." Damn courts and damn government is so busy saving me from myself that people never say any more "You had it comin', dummy. Dont' be so stupid next time."
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Please post a picture of yourself jumping off a high diving board. :)
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

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Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jun 24, 2006 3:34 pm

Ralph wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:
Ralph wrote:We can limit damages as some states have done. But recognize that civil litigation is as American as lemon meringue pie.
Yeah? Well so is individual responsibility and "assumption of the risk." Damn courts and damn government is so busy saving me from myself that people never say any more "You had it comin', dummy. Dont' be so stupid next time."
*****

Please post a picture of yourself jumping off a high diving board. :)
Alas, no pics. I stay away from pools because I drown a lot. But if I should ever go to one, you can be damn sure I wouldn't sue anybody if I injured myself because I know the risks of being around one.
Corlyss
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