Posted by: Rob | June 16, 2009

Personal Responsibility and Accountability

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why people have this idea that they are not responsible and accountable for their actions?  Does it not enter their heads that there might be very real consequences to poorly thought out plans?  Do people just not think?

I was disheartened to read a brief piece in the Calgary Herald today that signifies an increasing penchant on the part of Canadians to mimic the litigious ways of our American cousins.  (A mindset that, in my opinion, has garnered many more negatives than positives.)

The story’s background is, of course, tragic.  A husband and wife enjoying an outdoor adventure in the scenic Canadian Rockies that goes awry when, after skiing out of bounds, they become lost and, ultimately, the wife dies from exposure.

The surviving husband has apparently filed a couple of lawsuits against  Golden and District Search and Rescue, the RCMP, and the resort seeking damages for negligence. 

Quebec skier Gilles Blackburn filed two lawsuits last month claiming negligence and seeking damages from Golden and District Search and Rescue, RCMP, and the owners of Kicking Horse Resort after he and his wife became lost in the backcountry when they were skiing out of bounds, and she died.

Blackburn says the groups failed to heed his SOS messages.

Negligence.  For not coming and finding them when they failed to inform any one where they were going?  For skiing out of bounds?  Who, exactly, was really negligent here? 

Collateral damage is, of course, occurring as Search and Rescue units, largely volunteer, in Alberta and BC pack it in over fears of similar legal action.

And so it goes.  The bulk of society, the ones who would benefit from legitimate Search and Rescue, may now be denied access to that service.  And why?   Because of one couple’s irresponsible actions and, because the consequence of those actions was tragic, the survivor’s lashing out with a litigious fusillade.

I empathize with the husband for his loss.  Sadly, I know his pain.  But I hope that the legal system finds against these lawsuits, because to find for them would establish some far reaching and dangerous legal precedents.  In addition, it would re-inforce this notion that we are not truly responsible and accountable for our actions.


  1. Wow — the life analogies here are boundless. Yes, we often do stupid “out of bounds” things in our life and then, when the consequences are far greater than we expect–look for someone/something else to blame. I guess a bit of it is self-preservation, but justifying it morally is beyond me. Great post.

    • Thanks Marsha.

  2. i can envision a world where we have to sign liability waivers for everything we do… i’d be willing to sign a ‘shit happens’ clause every now and then to prevent exploitation of the legal system…

    • The neighbours, whom we are little more than nodding acquaintances with, have a boy about four. Our little one goes over to play with him on occasion. They got him a trampoline recently, but Dee has not been allowed on it (by them). Yesterday she came back with a hand written waiver for us to sign in order for her to be allowed on the tramp. Has it really come to this?

  3. It’s the skiing/snowmobiling/boarding culture too. It seems to fuel the idea that is other people who get into trouble going out of bounds – you know – the stupid/inexperienced people.

    The resorts/parks put out plenty of warnings about being outside sanctioned areas and the dangers. I think there was even one place that warned point blank they would not mount rescues into avalanche areas at one point.

    I am sorry for this fellow and suspect he is attempting to alleviate the guilt he feels for his wife’s death, but the truth is that they were both irresponsible and the result was tragedy. When you do something stupid, bad things can (usually do) happen.

    • I hadn’t thought of that, but I bet you’re totally right. He’s feeling guilty as hell for essentially dragging his wife out there to die.

  4. I imagine any tort court would find the couple more than 51% responsible for the outcome, since they went out-of-bounds. Fifty-one percent responsible means no money for you, Bubba. At least it does in the states. Unless he can prove that they actually ignored SOS calls without a good reason, (like it’s an avalanche zone) I think he’s up the creek without a paddle. But it’s expensive to defend against this idiocy, so S&Rs give up the fight.

    • As I understand it, Golden & District S&R has insurance against this and is continuing to stay on the job. It’s the small volunteer outfits that have to fund raise for operating money that are figuring to fold their tents. Even though it’s recommended, maybe even required, to have insurance, many of them just don’t take on that expense.

      I don’t know that our tort courts are as well developed (or as well used) as those south of 49, but I’m hoping the case is dismissed or thrown out or whatever the term is.

  5. This, I believe, is a purely Western contrivance. I hope it doesn’t spread as successfully as our fast food habits have.

    • Me too, UB, me too.

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