Olympic Luge Death, NBC’s Cold Heart, and Liability

Yesterday I heard about the death of Georgia’s Nodar Kumaritashvili. He was doing a training run on the luge when he lost control, went airborne, and slammed into a pole at a speed of approximately 90 mph. There is video, but I will not link to it. You can find it if you want. It is somewhat disturbing.

And how would I know that the video is disturbing? Because NBC, while crying their crocodile tears, showed this guy dying over and over and over last night. I had my children in the living room to have a peaceful night of watching the Opening Ceremonies and had to scramble for the remote while NBC kept showing the replay of the unfortunate athlete’s death.

Is that not cruel? I would be absolutely furious if a network was showing the death of a member of my family over and over like it were some sort of advertisement. I know they are there to report the news, and I would maybe understand if they showed it once, but to have it on a continuous replay reel is just disgusting, imho.

I would imagine that the family of the athlete will be lawyering up as well. I have no clue about Canadian law but I am going to guess that the IOC, the Vancouver Games Committee and others will be sued for some sort of negligence in the design of the track. Many have already noted that the steel poles that the luger crashed into were in sort of an odd place – but how do you know that until you have an accident? Many lawyers are probably looking into track designs worldwide and deaths on those tracks as we speak.

I have to sign a release form whenever I do a run, or do Muay Thai, or participate in an organized bicycle ride. Olympic athletes, I bet, sign a release form before they can even get near the sledding run, or ski hill, or ice arena, or anything else. If he signed a release, wouldn’t that free everyone from any sort of lawsuit? Maybe a better question is – shouldn’t it?

Every accident cannot be prevented. I feel bad for the guy who died on the luge run, but this is a dangerous activity by definition. I guess my question for the readers is that if you sign a release form to engage in something like a luge run, and you can see the track and what it has to offer and you die from that activity, is your family owed anything? Or is that just the way it goes? I would vote with the latter.

12 thoughts on “Olympic Luge Death, NBC’s Cold Heart, and Liability”

  1. Comes with the territory. It’s a dangerous activity, the athletes are volunteers — enthusiastic volunteers — and know the risks.

    I agree that NBC shouldn’t have showed the video repeatedly. But that is the MSM biz model: trolling. If you have something gruesome or salacious you show it as much as possible to attract as much traffic as possible. Higher traffic = higher ad rates = higher profits. Broadcast media (including Internet broadcasters such as Drudge) are driven by advertising revenue over all other considerations. It’s no different than when Bill O’Reilly pretends to complain about “teens baring all” or whatever — and then shows the audience video of the supposedly inappropriate activity. The audience must like it, since they watch it. If they want the broadcaster to stop showing it they can stop watching or stop patronizing the broadcaster’s advertisers.

  2. My only thought seeing that video was of the pain it would cause that poor kid’s parents to see it.
    The Pentagon has been criticized for it’s rule on taping and photographing soldiers killed in action. In Vietnam, when 100 soldiers died in a given day (average), footage of one or more bodies were anonymous. There was not easy for a parent to connect that image to their son or daughter. Today, with mercifully lower casualty rates, a family member can almost instantly connect a gruesome image to the death of their loved one.
    For this reason alone, the Pentagon’s rule is appropriate. In my mind, it outweighs every other consideration.
    …and shame on NBC for not being equally thoughtful in this case.

  3. Their exquisite sense of taste is visible only in their unwillingness to show video of the 9/11 attacks again and in ABC’s refusal to allow the TV series “Path to 9/11” to be produced on DVD.

  4. This is why I won’t have broadcast TV in my house. I don’t trust them to make proper programming decisions so I’ll put in my own filters and keep my kids from being influenced too much by these moral cretins.

  5. I am astounded that death is so unusual in the winter game sports. Ice is real hard and they go much faster than runners.

    I always figured that a chance to see a real death is what brought most folks to the Winter Olympics. The sports that have to be watched outside are almost all timed trials. Watching a competition in real time is like watching paint dry. You may have no idea of who won until you get back to your hotel. Remember that you as a spectator have to sit there in the cold, and on snow and ice. In a very short time you will be miserable.

    But the chance to see a death. Well, that is why people go to car races and why hangings and gladiatorial combat were so popular. This is pure manna for NBC. If only they would loose the dictatorships are wonderful puff pieces and the little girls on skates over-coming blisters weepers.

    Lawsuit. First, Canada follows, IIRC, the English rule on attorney’s fees — looser pays. That affects the equation right there. Do you have to sue in Canada? Maybe you can get jurisdiction in the US or Switzerland.

    Second, waivers. There are always lots of issues about the validity of waivers. E.g. was it written in a language he could understand.

    Third, immunities. Before the US legal system was taken over by deranged plaintiff’s lawyers, governments and charitable organizations were often immune from negligence based liability. Whether that is still true in Canada, I don’t know. Could you sue somebody else like an architect, engineer, or contractor.

    Fourth, negligence. If you can get over the first 3 hurdles then you have to show that somebody screwed up. That may not be easy. Should those poles have been there, should they have been padded?

    Fifth, other defenses, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, Did he disobey an express warning given to him by the track authorities? Was he drunk, or otherwise intoxicated?

    Sixth, Damages. In the US they would be based on loss of earnings. Did he have a trade or profession. Is the such a thing as a professional luger?

    Fill this in and get an A on that section of your torts final.

  6. I would like to note that on last nights Olympic coverage even though they did do a story on the death of the luger and the controversy surrounding the luge track, NBC made an announcement stating that they would not show the video of the lugers death anymore. They must have received a lot of negative publicity over it.

  7. I fired off an angry e-mail to NBC after they showed this horrific death 3 times in 5 minutes on their evening news and then AGAIN when the Olympic coverage started. There is a line of decency and NBC crossed it. I can not agree with Dan from Madison more. I hope NBC got a LOT of negative mail on this. As for their announcement about not showing it anymore. Well, damage is done now. Too little too late NBC. Oh yeah, WE ARE THE WORLD. Cripes.

  8. Good comments. A couple of points: 1) from comments I’ve hear the fellow was a third generation luger, not sure about the 3, but a 2nd generation for sure. No doubt he knew and understood the risks, so any waiver he might have signed is based on real knowledge, so should be iron-clad for the organizers, 2)Robert Schwartz’s comment on could the design engineers/builders be held responsible for a bad design? Likely, but based on the state of the art could we know a bad design? Interesting.

  9. Stan – I believe the deceased was the son of the coach of the luge team so he certainly knew what was up with the sport. I watched the luge competition today and it was insane. 90 mph is really, really fast. Anyone who had the technique to get one of those sleds going that fast would, well, have to know how to do it – and if you are that good, you would think that you would know the risks. I would imagine that there could be literally anywhere on the bottom half of the track that if a person wiped out they would bounce around and risk a broken neck and death.

    As far as the bad design, I can’t imagine any way you can design an ice covered chute where you can go speeds of 90 mph and make it death proof.

  10. There’s a song on the Chris Rea CD, “The Road to Hell” that sums this up nicely. The song title is from a statement about the media. The statement is “You Must Be Evil.” The setting is him coming home and finding his little girl crying because of something she saw on the television.

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