To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Joanne Jacobs has a post about lawsuits, or the threat thereof, changing the way public schools do recess.

Lawyered to Death

She quotes George Will:

Someone hurt while running at recess might sue the school district for inadequate supervision of the runner, as Broward Country knows: It settled 189 playground lawsuits in five years. In Indiana, a boy did what boys do: He went down a slide head first — and broke his femur. The school district was sued for inadequate supervision. Because of fears of such liabilities, all over America playgrounds have been stripped of the equipment that made them fun.

Some interesting comments:

I thought the Constitution guaranteed every citizen due process rights and right of redress to the courts. Have we suspended or revoked the citizenship rights of children?


If Broward County settled 189 lawsuits in five years stemming from playground incidents, the problem is likely not with the parents or the lawyers, but with the way the school runs its playgrounds.


Anyone who claims that: “if you do everything the proper way, you will not be sued” is a fool. Lawyers can pick apart anything and can always find blame.

Many years ago I had a coworker who was badly injured on the job. She had made a 50% sulfuric acid solution in water, 1 Liter total. I had trained her on some things but not on that analysis. Had I trained her, I would have had her put an Erlenmeyer flask in a plastic bucket of ice water on a stir plate, pour her water in and add a stir bar, start it stirring, then slowly add her acid. By the time it was all added and mixed it would have been at room temp - I've done it that way many times. Instead, the person who trained her had her add the water to a volumetric flask and then add the acid, and set it down in the hood and allow it to cool before completely mixing it. That still would have been OK, because the hood had a toe board so that if the flask had broken it would have made a dreadful mess but not hurt her, except that ...

... she didn't set it down right away, she carried it away in her gloved hand. The flask quickly became too hot to hold, of course, so she went to put it on the benchtop, but she didn't raise it high enough. The flask hit the edge of the bench and shattered, and boiling-hot acid spilled over her hand and wrist, and all down her leg.

Another coworker and I heard her screaming and ran to her aid. The person in the lab with her had kind of freaked. The first thing you have to do is get the clothes off, and then get to a shower. The person with her wet her with a hose from the sink, which washed the acid through her clothes onto her skin, and through the top of her canvas shoes, burning her even more thoroughly. Her laces were soaked, and I struggled to get them untied even as she screamed. (I have ALWAYS worn loafers in the lab, ever since.) Safety shower, paramedics, and ultimately, skin grafts and physical therapy for her foot. I don't know what they did about the scarring on her leg, which we saw when she came to see us some time after. She could never bring herself to enter the lab again, and quit to become a teacher.

The insurance adjuster had come to see us, and the boss had me talk to him even though I wasn't her supervisor. Did she have safety training? Oh, yes, I showed her the shower and eyewash station, and even warned her a few times to be careful with the sulfuric - that stuff will eat you up. Did she act like she was paying attention? Yes, she's a smart girl and a quick study. The adjuster nodded; apparently she struck him as pretty sharp too. Then what happened?

It's kind of like when you start driving a car. You think you're being careful. Then you have your first fender-bender, and it is brought home to you what "being careful" really means. We've all had a run-in with acid and had some fairly uncomfortable burns (kind of like picking up a hot skillet from the stove, for instance) and we learned to be respectful of it that way. (I won't lie, acid scares me even though I use it almost every day.) It's unfortunate, I told the adjuster, that this person's first experience was so extreme, but it's just one of those things. That told him what he needed to hear.

Subsequently one of my coworkers told me that that lab person should have sued our boss. What for? I asked. She wasn't hurt because of the boss's negligence. She didn't mix the acid the way she was trained - if she had, she'd have been all right. Because of her burns, the coworker said. They were so bad.

Well the thing is, she would have put in a claim for her medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and the insurance company would have paid it. What was to sue for? Would suing make it not have happened?

There's a time and a place for lawsuits, don't get me wrong. But every time something bad happens, it isn't someone's fault, and the courts can't and shouldn't try to make it right. Lashing out at anyone available because you're hurt is foolish and immature. Suing the "deep pockets" when there are any, just because you can, is actually kind of immoral.


ricki said...

Scary. Working with acids (I only do it rarely) scares me too. I hadn't thought about having quick-off shoes for in lab but that's a good thought.

I do worry about lawsuits. I frequently have to harass students (some of them Safety majors) about bringing bottles of pop into lab. It's not just dangerous, it's against the law! I wonder how many lawsuits get filed that have no kind of basis - like, some fool walks into a lab with a ham sandwich, gets chemicals on it, eats it, gets sick, then tries to sue the lab instructor (or whomever) for not saving him from himself.

I carry an "umbrella policy" along with my homeowner's just in case. My dad (a retired geochem prof) suggested it might be a good idea, just in case.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

No doubt the umbrella policy is a good idea.

Your students might as well learn now to keep the food and drink out of the lab, because if they end up working for me, that's part of initial safety training; and after that if I see food or drink, I'm firing their butt. Part of that is their safety (I don't want anyone getting hurt or poisoned) part is my liability and part is that I can't have anyone working for me who makes up his own rules.

Maybe you and the other science teachers could get together and have a policy that if any of you see any students - yours or not - with food or drink in the lab, they get an automatic zero on their lab course. If they have to learn the hard way, a zero grade beats being fired from a job they need, which beats the heck out of what the consequences could be if they are NOT prevented from eating and drinking in the lab.