A town in Washington State has taken a strange and troubling step thanks to fear of being sued. Milton, a small town south of Seattle with some 7000 residents chose to rescind their helmet law, which used to require anyone on a bicycle or skateboard to wear a helmet. The 12-year-old law was deemed too risky by the town’s insurance adviser in that their small, 12-man police department could not fully enforce the law and therefore expose the town to lawsuits.
The advisor felt that if a person got injured who was not wearing a helmet and had not been cited by police for that infraction, could sue the town and possibly bankrupt it.
Since the economic downturn started in 2008, the town has lost its library, fire department, city planning department and city activities director. The 12-person police department has seen a large surge in domestic violence, alcohol abuse and property crime, so helmet law enforcement was simply not in the cards.
While some people feel helmet laws are intrusive and should be a personal choice, the real issue here is that fear of litigation overrode all other issues – including the safety of children. This is an excellent, albeit extreme example of the need for tort reform. Local, state, and federal governments should not legislate in fear of being sued at every turn. Unfortunately municipalities are often pulled into lawsuits regardless of their actual liability in a case due to their ability to pay. When public safety comes second to avoiding litigation, a clear problem is present.
Right now, business and government make more and more decisions based on fear of litigation to the extreme detriment of every citizen. Until this situation is truly resolved in a sane fashion, our country will continue to head towards bankruptcy while trial lawyers get wealthy.