I originally wrote about this tragic crash last week where a Colorado man was killed while riding his motorcycle in what was described in the press by police as an accident of “unfortunate timing.” What might be a better description of this terrible and unnecessary death is a crash caused by “lack of supervision.”
It now appears that the tree that landed on the Utah State road 12 immediately in front of the motorcycle rider was felled by a couple of scouts who had “stepped away from the main group.”
I have read all the comments and sympathize with all involved – the man killed and his family – the boys – the supervisors of the group. But the question remains – who is responsible for Mr. Edgar Rickie's death – was it negligence or merely an unfortunate accident?
“Negligence” is defined in the law as:
Negligence means that a person did not use reasonable care. We all have a duty to use reasonable care to avoid injuring others. Reasonable care is simply what a reasonably careful person would do in a similar situation. A person may be negligent in acting or in failing to act.
The amount of care that is reasonable depends upon the situation. Ordinary circumstances do not require extraordinary caution. But some situations require more care because a reasonably careful person would understand that more danger is involved.
Let's apply the law to what the facts of this case. First of all there are no facts that indicate that the motorcycle rider was doing anything to bring about his own death. To the contrary, it appears that he was wearing a helmet even though a helmet, while riding a motorcycle in Utah, is not required. From the pictures it looks like the motorcycle itself was in good repair.
Did the boys, and more specifically the people responsible for supervising them, use reasonable care? Is it reasonable to allow two boys to “step away” from the group with tools in hand to fall a tree near a busy road – probably not. Reasonable care in this case would require the boys to be properly supervised and furthermore avoid falling trees near the highway. In this case the negligence is the failure to act – to correctly supervise the boys and make sure they are not cutting down trees near the highway.
Let's look at the second paragraph in the definition of negligence – the amount of care required in this case. The highway where the crash occurred is a scenic road with a relatively high speed limit. It appears that the troop did not warn travelers on the road that they were felling trees near the road, and more to the point, they should not have been cutting trees that had any chance of landing on the road. Cutting trees near a busy road would require more care – like warnings – becasue a reasonable person would understand that falling a tree on a highway is very dangerous. It does not appear that any precautions were taken.
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