Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Whitewater Rafting Industry May Be Killed Soon

Now we shall see in a major way if West Virginia's lawsuit friendly legal system will devastate West Virginia tourism.

A rafting outfit based in Harpers Ferry recently saw a rash of injuries related to its operation. Amazingly, when people get on rafts that ride rough water at fairly high speeds sometimes they do get hurt. Sometimes people even die. Under West Virginia state law (at least for now) those who pay to raft assume the risk of participating. If you get hurt, tough luck. It's dangerous and you knew that when you started. Assumption of risk protects many industries in the United States. One cannot sue a baseball team if one gets conked in the head by a foul ball, for example.

The protection for rafting companies may not be as ironclad as it appears. Our creative trial lawyers have come up with a novel argument. Activities on rivers come under maritime law, a set of laws that apply most often to ships on the high seas. A cruise liner is responsible for the safety of those aboard to a certain extent, much more so than a rafting company. Maritime law does not absolve the private sector nearly as much.

Will the State Supreme Court buy these arguments? On the surface, it certainly should not. The rivers and streams of the state are controlled by the state. State law should certainly govern these activities. However, with our trial lawyer friendly Supreme Court, one never knows what decisions could emerge from the chief court in a state often called a "judicial hellhole."

If maritime law governance of state rivers is permitted, that means the end of the rafting industry in West Virginia. Insurance carriers will lift premiums considerably or drop companies in the state altogether. This concept forces the asking of wider questions. What about boating in general on the lakes and streams of the state?

The main problem here is greed. Too many people apply the word greed to corporations seeking to make a legitimate profit for their investment and work. Making profits that are earned is not greed. Greed is seeking money that one is not entitled to. In this country far too often we see tragedy as a lottery ticket. Someone gets injured or killed these days, you can bet there will be a lawsuit for an outrageous amount of money. Legal systems everywhere, not just in West Virginia, need to tighten up to protect legitimate business from foolish lawsuits.

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