The Storm that Closed England

From Peter Hitchens:

It wasn’t snow or ice that paralysed much of Britain during the past few days. It was lawyers. A great swirling storm of ambulance-chasers long ago descended on this country, blanketing common sense under a thick layer of solidified, litigious drivel.

I strongly suspect it was a terror of litigation that caused me to be trapped pointlessly for ages in an immobilised train on Thursday morning and then forced me into a huge diversion to get to work four hours late. At one point, as I rambled round Southern England in rattling carriages, I wondered if I might have to go through the Channel Tunnel to get to my desk.

I had assumed that some astonishing unexpected weather bomb had caused my problems. But when I looked into it, I found that a few miserable deposits of snow and ice on the platforms of Paddington Station in London had led to the closure, for several hours, of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway system.

How Brunel, that mighty engineer, who never saw an obstacle without wanting to overcome it, would have snorted with derision. I later checked with the Met Office, and they said the weather stations in Central London had reported no significant snowfall on the night before.

When I put this to Network Rail, they sent me a long statement repeatedly claiming they had faced ‘extreme conditions’ and offering this excuse:

‘The station was not temporarily closed because of snow. It was temporarily closed because a combination of snow, strong wind and freezing temperature created sheet ice on the platforms and areas of the concourse creating an unacceptable risk to station users, particularly passengers disembarking trains.’ They sent me pictures, showing a few pitiful patches of snow, as if these were evidence of a major crisis. I am not convinced. I think they are evidence of a fear of litigation.

As for ‘extreme conditions’, what can they mean? Those of us old enough to remember the genuinely devastating winter of 1962-3 know what cold weather can do here. Then, there was a 36-hour blizzard right across the country, with 80mph winds creating 20ft snowdrifts.

The upper reaches of the Thames froze solid enough for a car to be driven across the river at Oxford. Even the salt sea froze four miles out from Dunkirk and a mile out from Herne Bay in Kent. The snow lay without a break for two months.

In the North of Scotland, temperatures got below zero Fahrenheit, what we would have called 35 degrees of frost (minus 19.4 on the boring, crude Celsius scale), which is really cold.

That was a crisis. This isn’t. But a terrible fear of being sued has turned it into one, helped by the intolerant and stupid Green Dogma which has closed and demolished most of our perfectly serviceable coal-fired power stations and brought us close to a totally needless gas shortage. Count yourselves lucky we still have some coal generation left, or there would have been serious shutdowns last week.

More at the link, of course.

Sound familiar? I sat here listening to the British domestic radio as they panicked during the storm, and chuckled at them as effete poofters, but after reading Hitchens, it’s not really very funny anymore, because it is America too. When every decision is driven by fear of litigation, and make no mistake, in business nearly all of them are, the insurance companies insist, they are not being made for the best interests of the corporation, the employees, the vendors, or the stockholders. They are being made in fear, to avoid lawsuits, no matter the harm to the real stakeholders.

Fear is also what drives the kowtowing to the left. It can be as picayunish as that the CEO won’t get invited to the right cocktail parties, or the perhaps legitimate fear of political action, or other actions that hurt the company, but as some, like the NFL have found, not taking action can have repercussions as well. If you want the big bucks of being a corporate officer, well, sometimes, you just have to suck it up and do the right, or as we’ve seen the last few weeks, the wrong, thing. Opposing the great middle of the United States again, attempting to confiscate our arms, will have a cost, it always does. I wouldn’t call us vindictive, I would call us just, and over the last 75 years, if we’ve learned only one thing here, it’s that you are either with us or you are against us. Both sides have costs and opportunities, but for me, it will be a while till I fly on Delta again, at least if I can help it.

It’s also a mechanism to avoid responsibility, of course. If your insurance company, or worse your lawyer, who was trained primarily to break deals without penalty, advises you don’t do something, well there is your excuse. And remember, no one ever found it difficult to stand around instead of doing what they should be doing (or even what they shouldn’t be doing).

So how do we (and the British for that matter) fix it? Or should we? Seems to me some sort of tort reform is in order, to make it considerably less lucrative to the lawyer to sue companies and people for stupid stuff. That would be a good start.


About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

10 Responses to The Storm that Closed England

  1. the unit says:

    Will it be worse if and when they figure out how to sue on behalf of the millions more who are put off and put out by these dastardly acts? I mean like having to take the Channel Tunnel may expose one to emminent dangers where it leads. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Interesting thought you got there – and I got no idea! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        But then you’d have had to cause a scene, like bumped ones, and be beat up by the stewardess or other attendant. At least harassed by having your iQ questioned. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yeah, there’s that. 🙂


  2. Nicholas says:

    I can’t help wondering whether it might be better to get rid of precedent (stare decisis). When a bad precedent is set by a very senior court it can take a long time before it gets to the highest court, and there is no guarantee that they will side with common sense. This affects all areas of law, not just tort, of course. I am still annoyed about the ruling in the Brown case about consent not being a defence in ABH and GBH cases. For my money, the dissenting opinion of Lord Mustill was correct, but since he was in the minority, we got stuck with Lord Templeman’s judgment. Since this was a House of Lords decision, it can only be overturned by the Supreme Court and I don’t think they are likely to depart from it any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      A lot of the problem is simply that “hard cases make bad law”. But buuilding of the law onprecedent is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the common law, and much of the reason that it is so much fairer than the European codes. Nor does it hurt that its precedents go back to King Alfred the Great, both in the UK and the US, over time it works out.

      Much of our problem in torts is with attorney’s getting a percentage of the award (usually ~30%), in some way it is fairer, because it can give the little guy a chance, but it has also led to a lot of frivolous lawsuits, like the woman who got $1M+ when she spilled a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap and burned herself. Too often awards have more to do with envy/deep pockets, stuff like that than justice. Not sure of the answer, although I have some ideas, but throwing away 1000+ years of working strikes me as unlikely to help.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. the unit says:

    As you said military comment never OT…
    Interesting day in history particularily at On this day 1945 firebombing of Tokyo. Little definition changing in article. What was bombed was the “downtown Tokyo suburb of Shitamachi.” Downtown suburb? They did say it did destroy the “shadow factories.”
    Also this day Ike in private described “McCarthy as a pimple on the path of progress.” Paraphrasing, many Americans at the time –and since– believed that the president should have spoken out against McCarthy’s tactics.
    But he couldn’t tweet on Twitter. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Those were some raids, not quite on the level of Dresden, but close. I used to agree, but lately (since the USSR went tits up, I’m not so sure that MacCarthy didn;t have a point, at least when he was sober. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Now today, history repeats. We got #OrangePimple standing in the path. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.