By Mari Wadsworth
THERE'S NO DOUBT about it. The State Capitol is brimming with big ideas for the 42nd congressional session. But dizzying environmental death threats and state's rights rhetoric are just a ruse to divert attention away from deeper mysteries brewing in Phoenix. In fact, there may be no greater mystery than HB 2218, our Pima County representatives' innovative attempt at tort reform.
The proposed bill would add Section 12-2510 to Arizona statute, stating, "A person who participates in roller skating activities at a roller skating center assumes the risks that are inherent in those activities, including the risk of injuries that result from falls or collisions with other roller skaters, spectators or other objects or artificial structures that are within the intended travel of the skater but that are not present due to a breach of the operator's (owner's) duties."
The bill would not only absolve the owner of legal responsibility for patrons' injuries, but would actually make delinquent skaters "liable for damages in a civil action." When asked how the statute would be enforced, local rink owner, and original advocate for the bill, Steve Gabany replied, "The rule of thumb is to go with the flow (of traffic)...If you're going 80 and everyone else is going 65, we're going to tell you to slow down, or sit down, or whatever it takes."
Gabany likens HB 2218 to the "Stupid Motorist Act" the legislature passed in 1994, making drivers who cross flood barriers legally responsible for the costs associated with rescuing them. "I call this the 'Stupid Skater Law,' " Gabany says.
HB 2218 has been around since 1992, was twice-rejected for a hearing, and has now suddenly sprung to life under the vigilance of four representatives from Pima County. The bill is sponsored by District 12 representatives Freddy Hershberger and Dan Schottel, and District 9's Bill McGibbon and Lou Ann Preble.
Hershberger, somewhat ironically, states HB 2218 "puts common sense into statute," and will "keep (us) from having so many frivolous lawsuits." Like, say, three over the next five years, which is what Gabany plainly states is his track record. Two of the cases were settled in arbitration--one for, one against--and the other was settled out of court.
"It's not life or death," admits Gabany, "but it's a headache. It's one nuisance case after another," with obviously long gaps in between. There is a precedent for such assumption of risk laws in states like Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and Oklahoma, where numerous rink owners banded together and hired a lobbyist. But in the great state of Arizona there are an estimated six roller rinks statewide, and only two in all of Pima County. If Gabany's neighbor wasn't a "committee person" who happens to know Hershberger, it may never have come to light at all.
We wanted to ask the Citizens for Prudent Government PAC, a leading campaign contributor for each of the four sponsoring representatives, how they felt about HB 2218; but nobody could tell us who they were, not even Hershberger. By our prudent standards, by the time HB 2218 goes through all the proper unnecessary committees and debates to get all the attention it doesn't deserve, it will have cost us more in tax dollars in one session than it's cost the roller rinks in the last decade.
It elevates the ask-a-stupid-question, get-a-stupid-answer game to an art form. Since when do frivolous lawsuits demand frivolous laws? "It's a common sense bill," Hershberger and Gabany are fond of repeating. So maybe we should lobby for some other broad-based, common-sense laws, such as absolving ice cream and frozen yogurt shops from liability for pain and suffering caused by paralyzing "ice cream headaches," or protecting video arcades from Repetitive Stress Injury claims, or even eye strain associated with BBS (Bookstore Browsers' Syndrome). Possibilities abound.
But things could be worse. They could forget about their constituency entirely and join in that wacky Risk game going on in the Guv's office. HB 2218 sheds light on one important debate: In an incredibly sick state body, Hershberger, Schottel, McGibbon and Preble are at least a benign cancer.
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