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Jail's no blast, not even for cold hard cash

September 17, 1998

Tim RowlandHere are two lessons I would like to impart on Tri-State area readers:

1. Jail is not pleasant.

2. Gunpowder explodes.

You may wish to review these two points for a couple of hours as there will be a quiz later. I am not lenient and will not give partial credit for "Gunpowder is not pleasant" or "Jails explode."

But I feel the need to bring it up in light of a couple of lawsuits filed last week, one in West Virginia, the other in Pennsylvania.

In West Virginia, an ex-inmate filed suit against the state jail system, claiming he should be paid $1 million because some prisoner beat him up.

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I won't relay too much of the story, because if I did you would probably want to beat him up, too, and I doubt if you can afford $1 million no matter how much you may think it would be worth it.

The man who was beaten up said it was the jailers' job to protect him, and that they didn't do so because he had a history of complaining about jail conditions.

Two observations: If you are depending on someone for your safety, it's best not to complain about their hospitality.

And one easy way I can think of to keep out of harm's way at a jail is not to do anything that will get you thrown into said jail in the first place.

But at least you can say the fellow, who is currently in a state pen for tax evasion, was there against his will and was subject to forces beyond his control.

The other lawsuit is even better. A Civil War re-enactor wants more than $75,000 because he claims the companies that sponsored a 1997 Gettysburg re-enactment were to blame for an arm injury caused by a mal-shooting cannon.

His suit claims the cannon misfired because another re-enactor didn't clean the barrel properly following the previous shot.

I hate when that happens.

But I would like to remind everyone that when you combine six tons of gunpower with thousands of men who are of the mind that dressing in heavy wool on 90-degree days is a good thing, you are bound to have a few violent mix-ups.

We all wish that accidents wouldn't happen, but playing with gunpowder and flint is simply not the safest hobby in the world. If you're going to sue somebody, you should sue yourself for choosing a dangerous sport.

Or why stop at the re-enactment sponsors? Why not sue the estate of General Lee for losing the war or the Chinese for inventing gunpowder in the first place?

I certainly feel for people who have been hurt. But I've never understood why people would put themselves in a position to be hurt and then expect someone else to give them a lot of money when it happens.

Maybe some of this is bitterness on my part because I have obviously not selected my hobbies well - if I mess up there is no one to sue.

If I fall off of a cliff, I cannot sue Mt. Marcy. If I break my arm while kayaking, I cannot sue the Shenandoah River.

And worse, if people keep filing lawsuits (the first of the Swissair suits hit almost before the plane did) then sooner or later there will be lawsuit reform.

This will be my luck. I'll go injury-free for years and years. Then the day after they pass punitive damage reform? Bingo, that's the day I put my hand on the gas burner.

The gas burner, mind you, that negligently had no warning label to tell me that when I see blue flame shooting out the jets it is likely to be hot.

No, while there's a chance of getting rich, I can't even so much as get my toe caught in a cracked sidewalk. And as much as I would like the money, I refuse to do something sure-fire, such as going to jail dressed as a re-enactor.

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