On a fateful day in 2012, somewhere on Salt Spring Island, a set of bad decisions ended up changing many people’s lives for the worst and ending one. Calder McCormick and Ryan Plambeck, then 17 and 18 years old respectively, left a house party in an advanced state of intoxication due to alcohol and marijuana, got in a car that was not theirs and crashed shortly after.
McCormick survived but suffered brain trauma which left him unable to pursue further education or even ride a bicycle, while Ryan Plambeck died at the scene of the crash. He was behind the wheel but did not have a valid driver’s license. Heartbreaking and yet preventable.
McCormick is suing the two parents who hosted the party on their property, for negligence. The ongoing lawsuit which is set to wrap up this week or the next, can set a precedent for any parent who will allow underage drinking in their home. The parents were in the home during the party, did not provide drinks but allowed guests to bring their own, and reinforced their no drinking and driving policy by taking drivers’ keys away and asking them to arrange rides home once the party was over. Could they have done more to prevent the tragedy that unfolded that night and has since continued to affect the lives of so many people?
Where does personal responsibility come in though? Should we, as a society, encourage people to consider their choices before tragedies happen rather than find someone afterwards to pay for what often looks like avoidable consequences.
A second story speaks to the same. In 2016, Jason Apps, then 20 years old, was snowboarding at Grouse Mountain. He attempted a difficult jump, fell the wrong way and became quadriplegic. Tragic and yet preventable. A B.C. Court of Appeal decision is now allowing Apps to sue the mountain resort for negligence.
Aside from the obvious, sad truth, that no amount of money can fix much at this point, aside from providing extra financial help for Apps, the question we need to ask once again is: what about personal responsibility?
What about that moment in time when we make the decision to do or not do something? Plus, there’s never just one person affected by bad decision.
And what about the people who are affected by someone’s bad decision simply by being somewhere at the wrong time?
Story number three speaks to that. In January 2018, Matthew Brown, a former Calgary Mount Royal University student and hockey captain, consumed enough hallucinogenic mushrooms to get into a state of ‘extreme intoxication and non-insane automatism.’ That comes to approximately 4 grams by the way.
He stripped naked, ran outside and broke into the home of Janet Hamnett, a MRU professor. Brown beat her up savagely, then ran away and broke into a second home where he was eventually apprehended by the police.
Earlier this month a judge acquitted Brown. What about the victim? Ms. Hamnett was left with pain, permanent disability and anxiety. What happened to her was someone else’s decision, and a horrible one at that. She could have not prevented that, but Brown could have. No one contests that he is a good person and was at the time too. However, in a situation like the one he found himself in, almost killing an innocent person, one needs to consider the decision that led him there. Does that count?
Does this set a precedent for people who make the decision to use drugs or alcohol to the point of extreme intoxication and then commit atrocious acts that hurt or even kill people? Someone is left with a bill to pay, and that someone is often the victim. No matter how heartfelt the apologies, they are just that. Words.
Hence the big question: where does personal responsibility begin and where does it end, and where should the law intervene to make it right; or absolve; or punish?
It would be too simplistic to conclude that it is mostly young people lacking the sense of responsibility that adults have. That are plenty of stories, unfortunately so, of older adults whose acts point to the opposite. So while age can play a role, and it does so in many cases, the ultimate question remains, age notwithstanding: how much do we believe in personal responsibility and how much are we each reinforcing that in our daily lives, or the lives of our children?
How willing are we as individuals, to admit the consequences of our actions and, when the lives of others have been affected, take the steps to address that. And no, this is not about punishment but about preventing other similar situations from happening.
Allowing precedents that reduce or wipe away personal responsibility when tragedies happen is in no one’s interest. As a society, we are better when we consider personal responsibility an essential value. After all, if that is not in place, what is left? Tragedies for one, and lives changed for the worst in most cases.