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.