Chelsea Hess was 20 years old when she walked into a South Carolina bar and ordered an alcoholic drink. The legal age for drinking in the state is 21, but the bar didn’t check her identification. On her way home, she drove her car off the road and is now a paraplegic. She’s suing the bar — because clearly the bar is responsible for her drinking and poor driving.
Hess’s lawsuit is emblematic of a trend for the last few decades of people looking for anyone else to blame for their troubles. We’re supposed to live in a risk-free and no-fault world, at least from the point of view of certain individuals. These people are so self-centered that they can’t be at fault. If something goes wrong in their world, someone else is to blame.
Contrary to what Hess believes, the folks at the bar aren’t her parents. The bar owner has a legal obligation to the state to obey its rules about alcohol sales, but that doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — make it responsible for her actions. If the state insists on fining the bar for failing to check her ID, that’s an administrative matter between the bar and the regulators. But it doesn’t mean the bar is responsible for the series of actions that Hess took that led to her own problems.
When I was a child, my father was an executive in the safety department of Southern Railway (which is now Norfolk Southern after a merger). Every now and then, he would have to get out of the office and travel in the cab of an engine to observe safety procedures. Even though these occasions were rare, he still saw serious safety violations — but they were mostly by the public, not by the engineers.