Assumption of Risk and Passing the Buck

It’s a terrible tragedy and highlights the attitude of dependence on the Nanny State.

The inquest into the death of 9-year-old Billie Clayton has made national news. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that her father is a TV news presenter and she was very photogenic. There are, after all, about 1500 drowning deaths in the UK each year. It is the nature of the media that the beautiful children of articulate people are never just one in 1500.

Ian Clayton blames his daughter’s death on the lack of regulation in the canoe hire business. He wanted to take his twin 9-year-olds out on the River Wye. He rented a canoe from a little start up business in Hay-on-Wye. They had life jackets. There was nothing defective about the canoe.

Ian Clayton’s bad choices cost his daughter’s life. It was his responsibility to know whether he could handle a canoe and two primary school-aged children in one Britain’s major rivers. He should have enquired about the conditions on the river. It was his responsibility to know whether the children could handle themselves should things not go as planned.

He wanted to paddle down the River Wye. He had a duty of care to his children to know whether it was safe and weigh up the probabilities of trouble. He failed in that duty.

The owners of the canoe company have carried a terrible sense of guilt, of which they probably can’t rid themselves, even if it is undeserved. While they may be overcome by their emotions, they did not have a duty of care beyond what they provided. But more important from a public policy standpoint, the State does not have a duty of care to impose one on them.

Life involves risk. Usually it’s calculated risk. Sometimes you calculate correctly. Sometimes you don’t. When you miscalculate, you take responsibility. You don’t ask the State for a new calculator.

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3 Responses to “Assumption of Risk and Passing the Buck”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    You have hit the nail right on the head with this.

    Of course what happened was a dreadful tragedy for this family, but to take two nine year olds, with no significant canoeing experience or swimming expertise, onto a major river with only one adult to supervise seems foolish at best, and verging on negligent at worst.

    You can’t be in two places at one time if problems develop.

    I have friends who have canoed, and they all started off by having courses held at the local swimming pool, where they were taught how to handle the canoe and how to handle accidents, emergencies, capsizing etc , long before they were allowed onto open water.

    I am soory for this family’s loss, but parents have **responsibility** for their offspring, and the buck does stop there.
    It is unfair to try to pass the blame onto someone else in order to salve one’s own guilty feelings.

  2. Steve Says:

    It seems to me that the state, or the local authority, might have a duty to provide warning signs if canoeing was dangerous on that stretch of water, and perhaps they will. They do provide road signs and markings warning about where it is dangerous to overtake etc. But it’s not the duty of car hire firms to provide such warnings.

  3. paul fletcher Says:

    I came to know of Ian Clayton through catching the odd ‘My Yorkshire’ episode on local TV. Later, on a whim i bought his book ‘Bringing it all back home’, putting 2 and 2 together i realised they where one and the same. Ian is far more eloquent than i am and hugely readable and listenable, giving voice to the everyday and as he says the little things of life that can cause the big changes. He is a humanist and lover of life, people and the many and varied things that they produce.

    Im not a great reader of the papers and dont watch much news and I maybe coming at this subject from a different angle.

    Reading Ian’s book alerted me to this tragic accident and via google Ive read a few online newspaper reports and also ended up finding this blog.

    Reading the initial blog and following comments has made me want to add comment, it may not be read by many but here it is.

    I find the previous comments to be somewhat callous, arrogant and smug, reeking of armchair sociology. Written in a knee jerk journalist fashion.

    This is an issue were you have to read between the lines. Making assumptions about the people who set up the canoe hire business and the guilt they must carry is useless and misplaced.

    If some good can come out of this tragedy in alerting people to the dangers in activities similar to these or for some small change in legislation or policy then this can only be for the better. Isnt that normally what comes from questioning the facts.

    Forget yr conspiracy theories and media rants, to quote “It is the nature of the media that the beautiful children of articulate people are never just one in 1500”. Im sure Ian thinks of his daughter as he thinks about the of the 1500; as someone who deserves a chance in life.


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