Who is to Blame? :
The doctrine of assumption of risk clearly defines the responsibility of all voluntary actions taken on by individuals, independent of the inherent risk or danger involved with such actions. Are we only to assume responsibility for the positive outcomes of our actions, without also accepting the negative outcomes as well? Most individuals only claim responsibility in cases in which they are fully responsible for their actions. Living within a country which houses a large amount of private enterprise, we often find ourselves relying on outside help. In many occasions we, the individual seeking assistance, hold the power to choose which avenue of help will be taken. In these cases in which we have the choice, should we not also be held responsible for the outcomes of our decisions, especially in cases in which we have been pre-warned about any inherent risks or dangers? For example, when we take it upon ourselves to drive on a private road, smoke cigarettes, work for a mining company or fly on a discount airline at our own volition, do we tacitly consent to take responsibility for any outcome these actions may hold? The assumption of risk doctrine seems to ignore the fundamental obligation of entities to ensure their natural goals. The distinguishing factor in deciding responsibility in faultless cases which call on the assumption of risk doctrine is the control held by individuals after the situation has begun. In accordance, companies such as discount airlines and cigarette companies must take on the responsibility of completing their duties, while individuals who chose to work in a mine or drive on a private road must accept the responsibility of their actions to do so.
All airlines hold the responsibility of transporting their customers from a point of origin to a previously designated destination. The person who agrees to buy a discount airline ticket, which warns to fly at your own risk, is entitled to receive the minimum service of transportation provided by the airline. The individual traveler should assume no other benefits other than transportation. The airline company claims this act of transportation to be its goal of services rendered.
Independent of difficulties which may arise in completing this goal, the airline may not alter the basic duty which it is contractually obligated to perform. The airline tacitly consented to perform this basic duty the moment they began transporting individuals for an accepted payment. Once an individual has boarded the airplane they render all control over their safety to the accepting airline which holds the minimum responsibility of returning the individual back to a state of safety once their duty is complete. The mere nature of airplane transportation forces the individual to render total control over themselves to the airline. This transfer of control holds the airline responsible for any action which may occur due to the obvious lack of responsibility in the hands of the individual. Once the plane has closed the cabin they withhold all control of an individual over themselves, and must grant the service promised. The individual may demand the right to existence and hold the company liable once they hold the power to dictate all aspects of the situation.
One problem which arises within the situation is that of something happening which the airline holds no control over. Any difficulties which arise due to the daily routine of the airplane fall under the responsibility of the airline. Even occurrences which are deemed unavoidable fall under the responsibility of the airline because they hold total responsibility of their clients once the cabin is closed. Due to the complete control the airline holds on the situation it may be assumed that the doctrine of assumption of risk applies solely to the airline. In creating a situation in which the individual must give up his/her right to self-sustenance the airline holds full responsibility for any actions taken which may affect the safety of its passengers.
Anytime the airline engages in profit making acts, such as cutting costs, they increase the risk upon themselves in return for extra monetary benefits. Some may argue that some responsibility falls on the consumer due to the warning which the airline provided prior to the purchase of the tickets. This argument revolves around the assumption that the individual becomes responsible due to their decision to buy a discounted ticket over the full price. Having been previously warned about the risk involved, the individual is expected to relieve the airline of responsibility for any mishaps which may occur. This idea of responsibility may hold true if, and only if, the participant holds some control over their well-being once inside the cabin of the airplane.
There is no controversy over the fact that the individual willingly accepted the discounted rate and received a warning, but the airline still holds the responsibility of earning its payment by completing the minimal requirement of transportation. The prior warning only holds precedence over the individual’s ability to choose an airline which may either claim responsibility for numerous actions, such as transportation, food and entertainment or act as the discount airline and only claim responsibility for the transportation. The warning holds no validity once the individual has lost control over their wellbeing. In continuing with the theory that the provider of a service holds the minimum obligation to produce their product; the situation which arises in the case of cigarette companies tends to raise several questions. If it is correct that they provide a good which is legal under present law, how can they be held responsible in any way? In following with the statement above, the cigarette company holds a minimum obligation to the individual to produce a safe cigarette. The meaning of safe in this context is meant to imply that the cigarette will meet the safety requirements set by the government so that individuals are not killed by a single cigarette. This act of producing safe cigarettes for individuals covers the minimum obligation of the company to the individual. In this case, any additional concerns or problems which the user may have as a result of the product become the responsibility of the cigarette addict. The cigarette company seemingly performs more than the minimum obligation by also providing a product which fills the crave of addiction. Continued use of this addictive product may lead to detrimental health and lung disease. Cigarette companies attempt to protect themselves from such issues by warning users of the inherent dangers and therefore eliminating their responsibility for the result.
After all, the individual must only notice the risk and discontinue the use of cigarettes to reduce the risk of illness. Therefore, it seems that the company holds no problems since they provide the product and clearly state the risks of use. In this case it becomes the individual's responsibility to accept the risk and suffer the consequences. A large problem arises in the addictive nature of the cigarette to seize control over the actions of the individual user. Although the product acknowledges its addictive quality, the addiction still continues to seize complete control over the situation of cigarette smoking. The user becomes chemically dependent on the product and becomes unable to avoid the risks associated. As in the airplane case, the cigarette company gains control over the individual and is therefore forced to share responsibility for their actions. By outwardly admitting the problem at hand, the cigarette company must handle the consequences. It seems logical that the company could restrict blame solely to the user, due to the self-inflictive nature of the problem. The problem lies in the fact that as the cigarette company admits to the addictive nature of their product, they emphasize the fact that they have seized control of the situation. Taking control of the situation forces the company to take responsibility for the outcome produced. Cigarettes are intended to be addictive in order to increase sales. Thus, if the company shares in the awards of the addiction, they should consequently share in the damages as well.
A case which differs, due the control of the individual over their actions, is that of the mining industry. The only problem for the company is that of the moral dilemma accepted by the company's executives. When we look at the case from a distance it seems to be similar to that of the cigarette industry, but the difference lies in the non-addictive nature of mining. Although the company acknowledges the dangers of working in the mines, it is the decision of the workers to accept the risk or find less hazardous job. The individual holds the power to work in the mine or not. Unlike smoking, the mine holds no addictive qualities which force the workers to stay. The worker assumes full responsibility for his/her actions due to the choice to work in a hazardous area. Since the company never gains control over the worker, the worker stays in full control of the situation given the apparent risks involved.
The only instance in which the mining company gains some power over the individual is in the case of monetary concerns. If the individual can only obtain work at the mine and relies upon the income produced, it seems clear that the company then holds some power over the individual. Although, this power is limited by the mindset of the individual to determine the actual importance of monetary gains. Since the mine holds no addictive quality which forces the individual to work, the worker holds a free mind to decide what qualities of life are most important.
This freedom to decide releases the company from responsibility of any problems which may arise as a result of the mine work, and places all burden on the individual. Some may argue that the mining company holds some responsibility over the well-being of its employees. These beliefs support the idea that the company should provide the greatest amount of safety precautions for their workers. This can be witnessed through the use of safety equipment, medical aid, and protective gear. Since the company has already warned about the risks, it becomes the burden of the individual to purchase these items for themselves. The company only holds the obligations to inform the workers of such available equipment. If the workers feel this is unfair they may quit working and possibly force employers to engage in such safety precautions. The responsibility of providing payment for work is the only act which must be taken on by the employer after they have given the warnings about the dangers of mining. The rest of the responsibility lies in the hands of the miners who hold the power to decide where they work.
The final case regarding responsibility of actions lies on a private road which warns individuals of falling rocks. The sign posted at the beginning of the road clearly states any dangers and makes the reader aware of the apparent risks. The fundamental obligation of the road is similar to that of the airplane in that it must provide a means for transportation from point A to point B. However, the road differs from the plane in that the person driving is in control of the situation at all times, and never gives up control over their actions. The speed of travel, length of stay on the road and the decision to travel on the road are all decisions made by the individual and have a direct effect on the safety of the individual. In this case the driver becomes responsible for his actions on the road. The owner of the road met the requirements set upon him by providing means of transport and warning of any danger. All other responsibility lies in the able hands of the individual driving the automobile.
The responsibility of any given action remains in the hands of those in control of the action at any given time. As seen in the airplane and cigarette examples, proper warning does not warrant lack of responsibility if the individual holds no control over the outcome of the action. The mining company and private road examples show how responsibility lies in the hands of the individual as long as control over the situation is also controlled by the individual. It is clear to see that responsibility for any given action remains in the hands of those who hold control over the situation.
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