Monday, December 04, 2006

Mark Green's bad ideas still surfacing

The House is expected to vote on a bill tomorrow that would protect non-profit athletic organizations from lawsuits stemming from the organizations' own negligence if that negligence is related to "the passage, adoption, or failure to adopt rules of play for athletic competitions and practices."

Wow, what a bad idea, and soon-to-be former Congressman Mark Green is a co-sponsor. Public Citizen put the issue in perspective:

At a recent Wisconsin high school swim meet, a student became quadriplegic after diving into a pool that was not deep enough. The athletic association's standards for pool depth were not up to national standards. Because the student filed a claim against the association, it changed its standards to comply with the National Federation of State High School Associations. If this bill passed, the association would be completely off the hook.

The reasoning behind the measure is suspect to say the least.

Sport involves intense physical activity. It also involves a certain element of danger. Rule making is anticipatory, and hence a difficult balancing act. Rules committee members face a constant struggle to balance the tradeoffs of limiting risk and preserving the key elements and sound traditions of the sport. Rules makers must draw unambiguous lines; they do not have the luxury of self-protective vagueness. Given the large number of participants and the risks inherent in sport, injuries cannot be avoided. By deciding to partake in competition, athletes assume such risks. Allowing lawsuits based merely on the good faith development of the rules is wrong and unfair.

This immunity, though, would extend to organizations that did not engage in "good faith development of the rules." It would apply to organizations that demonstrated incompetence, ill intent or indifference. It puts athletes unnecessarily at risk and blocks the fundamental right of citizens to seek redress in a court of law. Let's not do it.

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