Somebody Call the Tort Reformers.

The industrial workplace can be a dangerous place. Accidents happen in work zones; people get hurt and killed. Isaac Sheridan knew this and Fernando Rodriguez knew this; they acknowledged it by strapping on hard hats and reflective vests at the beginning of every day’s work in a construction zone.

On Thursday afternoon, when Sheridan was running his street sweeper and Rodriguez was driving his pickup in their workplace in Montgomery County, Texas, Rodriguez’s pickup hit Sheridan’s street sweeper, which turned over. Sheridan fell out (not wearing a seatbelt?) and was badly hurt.

Probably avoidable, definitely unfortunate, but an accident.

Montgomery County, Texas prosecutor Warren Diepraam (formerly of Harris County) doesn’t see it this way at all. Diepraam has charged Rodriguez with aggravated assault; Rodriguez sits in jail in lieu of $100,000 bail. Most people can’t make $100,000 bail (twice the bail, by the way, than is standard for a murder case in Harris County).

Houston DUI lawyer Paul Kennedy sees this as an attempt to criminalize a traffic accident, which we’ve seen many times from Diepraam. (Diepraam is a king of the sort of really stupid ideas that I guess must appeal to scared white Republican voters.) I see in it something new, much more insidious and costly: an attempt to criminalize workplace accidents.

When Isaac Sheridan and Fernando Rodriguez went to work, each knew that knew he might be hurt or killed on the job, or might hurt or kill someone else. They accepted those risks because that was their job; if pressed beyond that, they would probably say that somebody had to build that road.

Somebody has to build our roads and refine our oil and manufacture our machines. People are maimed and killed on the job every day doing these things. I don’t think that Diepraam appreciates this—Warren his job, by contrast, doesn’t involve any risk greater than papercut. 

There are government agencies that have the job of minimizing these workplace accidents; the Montgomery County DA’s Office is not one of them. By meddling in workplace safety Warren Diepraam ensures himself and his underlings full eternal employment (every bureaucrat’s unspoken wish). . . at a price.

Guys like Sheridan and Rodriguez, who might never have considered that their mistakes at work could subject them to prosecution, will now have to be compensated for that risk as well as the old risk that they will be hurt or hurt someone. And the rest of us will pay for Diepraam’s expanded little fiefdom in increased prices for all things that guys like Sheridan and Rodriguez go to work to produce.


0 responses to “Somebody Call the Tort Reformers.”

  1. Some prosecutors overextend criminal law in order to make a name for themselves. Making crazy applications of the law gets press, and any press is good press. So when this prosecutor wants to run for office, people will remember his name, without remembering why they kept seeing it in the paper. Overzealous prosecutors end up getting rewarded for their (arguably) unethical decisions.

  2. In addition to papercuts, prosecutors’ job risks include possible retaliation from defendants and their associates.

  3. On the one hand, doesn’t assault require intent, for which there appears to be no evidence? On the other hand, if it is true that Rodriguez was driving at an “unreasonable and unsafe speed” as alleged, then it might be reasonable, to charge him with something like reckless endangerment or, should the victim die, involuntary manslaughter. Is this really a case of criminalization of a pure accident? It looks like it has been overcharged but that criminal charges might be justified under long established law.

  4. The unfortunate characterization of over a quarter of the population of the country caused me to stop reading the article and to associate the author with a closed mindset.

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