An incredible tragedy happened in my city last week. A ten year old boy was crushed to death, and other members of his family were injured by a 300-400 pound arrivals/departures sign in the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
The board was brand new, part of the multi-million dollar renovation to the aging terminal. I was in there the other day; the whole facility is very sharp.
Of course the whole project was contracted out to different construction companies, and those companies are, in the end, responsible for the quality of the product for which they were paid to create.
But what about the owners and operators of the airport? They are completely shielded from liability for the death of a small boy.
You see the State of Alabama, much as most federal facilities and agencies, has protected itself from litigation. Individuals can’t sue the state government, or many of its designated agencies, including the Airport Authority for negligence.
So, here’s my question: Isn’t the supposed validation for government that it promotes the general welfare? That it solves the collective action problem? That in providing building codes and forcing us to pay for inspectors to make sure codes are followed, that the public will be safe and protected?
I get it, accidents happen. “I”s aren’t always dotted, and “T”s aren’t always crossed, small things are overlooked, and it can bring major ramifications. But when the “I” whose dot is neglected results in death or injury, shouldn’t those who are claiming to protect take at least some of the responsibility for their neglect?
If a beer display toppled on someone and injured them, wouldn’t the grocery store be at least partially at fault?
While I understand the reasoning behind the protection, what incentive do the people we supposedly pay our taxes and “hire” to protect us have to do their job effectively when they are protected from the consequences of failing to do it well? While the Birmingham Airport Authority certainly has the PR incentive to make sure this never happens again, until the government and its agencies are financially and morally held culpable for their actions, they have no true incentive to act any other way.