Common sense returning?

A column by Mike Myers, executive editor of The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register       

WHEELING, W.Va. — If I choose to crawl under a farmer’s barbed wire fence to wave a red flag at a bull, I probably deserve whatever happens to me.

If I, as an adult, climb over a neighbor’s fence to take a dip in his swimming pool, then drown, I have no one to blame but myself.

Right? It’s common sense, isn’t it?

But common sense may have little or nothing to do with what happens in a court of law. If I sue the farmer, I may win because he should have done more to keep me out of the field or, perhaps, should have posted a sign warning people not to wave red flags at bulls.

One consequence of such court judgments – all over the country, not just in West Virginia – is that people who once might have said, “Hey, I’ll leave the gate open. Any time you want to take dip, feel free,” are being told by lawyers that they’d better be very careful about that.

In some cases, activities we enjoyed when kids are barred to us because of concerns about liability.

Years ago, while driving through southern West Virginia, I decided it would be nice to show my family a very unusual cave I’d explored in my younger days. One nice thing about it is that it’s located just off a highway.

We pulled in, parked, got out – and saw a padlocked gate blocking entrance to the cave. A sign explained that the property owner’s lawyer had advised him to keep people out.

Exploring “wild” caves (not commercially developed) is an activity absolutely filled with risks. But many people are willing to take them in exchange for the unique rewards of the activity- and willing to accept responsibility if they are injured.

A bill in the West Virginia Legislature could restore some common sense to the situation. It shields property owners from at least some lawsuits when “open and obvious” hazards are involved.

Here’s hoping the measure is approved and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signs it into law. Maybe I can show the (adult) kids that cave, after all.

But the Legislature’s action raises a question: Why did it take so long?

Better late than never, I suppose.

Myer can be reached at: [email protected].

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