Blame Culture

Blame Culture

Whose fault is it?

It seems there is no longer such a thing as an accident in the strictest sense. Commercials pop up all around to urge us to sue for compensation – “Have you had an accident that wasn’t your fault?

I remember when tripping over some object left lying around caused embarrassment at one’s carelessness and lack of attention – I didn’t see that there. Now, rather than being personally responsible for one’s own safety and taking care to spot and avoid hazards, it is up to everybody else on the planet to make my environment risk-free on pain of legal action.

Is it just me or is there something wrong with this picture? Whatever happened to common sense? Surely if I choose a course of action that involves some risk then it is my own fault, and nobody else’s, if I incur – or cause – injury. It is my responsibility to be aware of the risks and take steps to mitigate them.

Let’s take the scenario of crossing the street. Without warning I step out into the road and get hit by a truck whose driver didn’t have chance to stop. Based on the premise that whatever happens to me cannot be my own fault then obviously it must have been the driver’s fault – he was going too fast or failed to think that I might take it into my head to cross the road right in front of him. Hope he’s got a good lawyer!

Or perhaps my assumption was flawed. Consider the possibility that it was my own fault, that I am responsible for myself. That if I don’t want to spend time in the ER then I should look before I step into the road. That if I don’t check that there is no traffic – if I don’t take reasonable steps to reduce the risk – then I am to blame for whatever happens to me.

What about a different situation (one that really happened to somebody I know)? You are walking under a ladder when the person working above drops something on your head. In my mum’s case it was a window cleaner’s wet sponge – she saw the funny side – but it could have been something that would cause injury. My immediate reaction is that walking under a ladder on which somebody is working is a pretty stupid thing to do and you deserve whatever you get.

The point is that, with a few exceptions, window cleaners do not deliberately drop things on passers by walking underneath. If it is not a deliberate act then it falls into the category of an accident. Yes, he dropped his sponge and it hit somebody. But that person chose to take the risk of walking under the ladder. Some might say that there should be warning signs or barriers; however my opinion is that the presence of the ladder is sufficient warning in itself.

Which brings me to my final point here: what is gained by apportioning blame here? Does the window cleaner benefit from blaming the pedestrian for walking under his ladder? Does the pedestrian benefit by blaming the window cleaner for dropping his sponge? I don’t believe either of them does. What would benefit the pedestrian in this case is to analyze the cause of the accident and learn to avoid similar situations in the future. In other words, don’t walk under ladders!

There are situations where harm is caused by reckless or malicious behavior – these are not accidents but rather incidents: the effects of actions. In these cases the responsibility lies with the one who caused the incident – it is their fault. Key is the idea that we are all individually responsible for our own actions and should attempt to reduce the harmful effects of those actions on ourselves and especially on others. Failing to fulfill this responsibility is reckless if not deliberate but malicious – even criminal in some instances – if done with knowledge and intent.