Imagine if New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg became president of the United States and, believing the citizenry to be incompetent boobs and himself a national nanny, mandated that all products sold in America be suitable for unsupervised use by a seven-year-old child.
Not a seven-year-old prodigy, mind you, nor even a seven-year-old of average intelligence and deportment, but the least disciplined and discerning seven-year-old imaginable.
There’d soon be few products available for purchase in the marketplace. No guns. No cars. No matches, knives, or scissors. No beer, wine, or spirits. No medicinal drugs, no solvents or detergents. Plenty of pabulum, pureed vegetables, footed pajamas, and beanbag chairs, but not much else.
Some adults might protest: “We don’t need the state to tell us what we can or can’t use safely. And children have parents who should look after them.”
There’s the rub.
Some parents don’t pay much attention to their offspring and don’t want to be held accountable for their actions.
Alva Nelson and Kimberly Landis chose to blame others for the severe burns their seven-year-old son received on 65 percent of his body when they allowed him to roast marshmallows in their fireplace unsupervised.
They filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia against the manufacturer of the fire gel the boy misused to start the fire (labeled “keep out of reach of children”), the maker of the bottle the gel came in, the maker of the bottle cap, the distributor of the gel, and the store it came from.
Weighing in on the case, in response to questions from the lower court, our state Supreme Court affirmed that negligent parents can be third-party defendants for the allocation of fault, and that abnormal product use and parental misconduct are legitimate defenses.
The court ruled rightly, but why did the questions have to be asked?