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A Sadly Representative Lawsuit

One of my favorite websites was formerly known as “The Daily WTF”—until the proprietor, Alex, got too embarrassed having to explain to his relatives what it stood for, and made up the backronym “Worse Than Failure”. The site entertains me with regular exhibits of poor programming. And one of my favorite recurring features at Worse Than Failure is the Representative Line: “A single line of code from a large application that somehow manages to provide an almost endless insight into the pain that its maintainers face each day.”

On April 29th, Josh Hancock, relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, got drunk and got behind the wheel. He was at twice the legal blood alcohol limit, speeding, on his cell phone, and not wearing his seatbelt. He got in a wreck and he died: he drove his car right into a flatbed tow truck. They later also found marijuana in his car. This wasn’t his first drunk-driving incident. The tow-truck driver was a good Samaritan who’d stopped to help a man in a Geo Metro who had been involved in a prior accident.

Here’s a Representative Lawsuit, which can provide a terrible insight into what’s ailing Americans today. On May 24th, Josh Hancock’s father, Dean, filed suit against the following people, blaming them for his son’s wrongful death:

  1. Mike Shannon’s Steaks & Seafood
  2. Patricia Shannon von Matre, the manager of the restaurant
  3. Eddie’s Towing, the tow-truck company
  4. Jacob Edward Hargrove, the tow-truck driver
  5. Justin Tolar, the stranded Geo Metro driver

Dean Hancock said in a statement that the “facts and circumstances” of Josh’s death “have caused great pain to all of Josh’s family.” As administrator of his son’s estate, Dean Hancock said he has an obligation to represent the family on all issues, “including any legal actions necessary against those who contributed to the untimely and unnecessary death.”

The terrible insight provided by this Representative Lawsuit is that for some people, nothing bad that happens to their golden children is ever their fault. Everything bad that happens is caused by other people, and there is no such thing as personal responsibility. There is only the responsibility of others to be psychic, and foretell that our spoiled, elite spawn is careening erratically down the freeway, and you filthy peasants stranded in your Geo Metros should make way for their highnesses.

Let’s get one thing straight that shouldn’t need saying. There is one and only one person responsible for Josh Hancock’s death: Josh himself. It is a pity that he is dead, but it is not in any way surprising. That someone who repeatedly got behind the wheel drunk, possibly stoned, didn’t wear a seatbelt, and jibber-jabbered on his cell phone instead of minding his vehicle is now fertilizing daisies is an outcome as likely as getting pregnant on the rhythm method. So why is Dean Hancock seeking to drag all these parties through ruinous, expensive litigation? Josh’s death wasn’t wrongful—it was an inevitable result of the choices he was making.

Mind you, I am not complaining about the court system. I do have many complaints about our legal regime, but the fact is, the legal system is nothing more than a stage, and the actors are writing their own scripts. I don’t blame the Laugh Factory for Michael Richards’s tirade, or his poor judgement. But I am complaining about Dean Hancock, whose grief should not excuse his outrageous abuse of the legal system. And I am also complaining about his legal team, who do not have the excuse of grief. I hope they at least tried to dissuade him. Lawyers, help me out here: sometimes you just have to tell the client they’re wrong, correct?

What kind of effect will this irresponsible suit have on the willingness of people to be good Samaritans? I guarantee that regardless of the outcome of the case, Eddie’s Towing and probably the majority of tow-truck companies have now forbidden their drivers to be good Samaritans. Litigation is just a threat too onerous to expose yourself to, just for the sake of helping someone in need. Does Dean Hancock know that he is pissing in society’s common well? Does he even care, or is he just lawsuit-happy? I hope the effects of frivolous litigation such as his come back to bite him in a time of need and helplessness. I hope that when someone who can assist him comes across him, he just keeps driving, shy of a lawsuit.

By the way, the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control has exonerated Mike Shannon’s.

Josh Hancock ruined his own life, and that of his family. His father is now determined to ruin a few more people's lives to make them pay for being in the area when his son made his series of very bad decisions. What he's doing is almost as bad as what his son did. Just let it go, Dean. It won't bring him back, and you're making a fool out of yourself. Even if your lawyers think they can convince a carefully hand-picked jury of emotional simpletons otherwise, it doesn't change the fact that you're wrong to pursue this suit. And congratulations on filing a lawsuit that crystallizes so eloquently what's wrong with the way modern Americans perceive reality.

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