Somebody Call the Tort Reformers.

 Posted on February 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

The industrial workplace can be a dangerous place. Accidents happen in work zones; people get hurt and killed. Isaac Sheridan knew this and Fernando Rodriguez knew this; they acknowledged it by strapping on hard hats and reflective vests at the beginning of every day's work in a construction zone.

On Thursday afternoon, when Sheridan was running his street sweeper and Rodriguez was driving his pickup in their workplace in Montgomery County, Texas, Rodriguez's pickup hit Sheridan's street sweeper, which turned over. Sheridan fell out (not wearing a seatbelt?) and was badly hurt.

Probably avoidable, definitely unfortunate, but an accident.

Montgomery County, Texas prosecutor Warren Diepraam (formerly of Harris County) doesn't see it this way at all. Diepraam has charged Rodriguez with aggravated assault; Rodriguez sits in jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. Most people can't make $100,000 bail (twice the bail, by the way, than is standard for a murder case in Harris County).

Houston DUI lawyer Paul Kennedy sees this as an attempt to criminalize a traffic accident, which we've seen many times from Diepraam. (Diepraam is a king of the sort of really stupid ideas that I guess must appeal to scared white Republican voters.) I see in it something new, much more insidious and costly: an attempt to criminalize workplace accidents.

When Isaac Sheridan and Fernando Rodriguez went to work, each knew that knew he might be hurt or killed on the job, or might hurt or kill someone else. They accepted those risks because that was their job; if pressed beyond that, they would probably say that somebody had to build that road.

Somebody has to build our roads and refine our oil and manufacture our machines. People are maimed and killed on the job every day doing these things. I don't think that Diepraam appreciates this-Warren his job, by contrast, doesn't involve any risk greater than papercut.

There are government agencies that have the job of minimizing these workplace accidents; the Montgomery County DA's Office is not one of them. By meddling in workplace safety Warren Diepraam ensures himself and his underlings full eternal employment (every bureaucrat's unspoken wish)... at a price.

Guys like Sheridan and Rodriguez, who might never have considered that their mistakes at work could subject them to prosecution, will now have to be compensated for that risk as well as the old risk that they will be hurt or hurt someone. And the rest of us will pay for Diepraam's expanded little fiefdom in increased prices for all things that guys like Sheridan and Rodriguez go to work to produce.

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