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Essay/Term paper: Assumption of risk: who is to blame for our actions

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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Assumption of Risk: Who is to Blame For Our Actions

The doctrine of "assumption of risk" clearly defines the responsibility
of all voluntary actions taken on by individuals, independent of the inherent
risk or danger involved with such actions. Are we only to assume responsibility
for the positive outcomes of our actions, without also accepting the negative
outcomes as well? Most individuals only claim responsibility in cases in which
they are fully responsible for their actions. Living within a country which
houses a large amount of private enterprise, we often find ourselves relying on
outside help. In many occasions we, the individual seeking assistance, hold the
power to choose which avenue of help will be taken. In these cases in which we
have the choice, should we not also be held responsible for the outcomes of our
decisions, especially in cases in which we have been pre-warned about any
inherent risks or dangers? For example, When we take it upon ourselves to drive
on a private road, smoke cigarettes, work for a mining company, or fly on a
discount airline at our own volition, do we tacitly consent to take
responsibility for any outcome these actions may hold? The "assumption of risk"
doctrine seems to ignore the fundamental obligation of entities to ensure their
natural goals. The distinguishing factor in deciding responsibility in
faultless cases which call on the "assumption of risk" doctrine is the control
held by individuals after the situation has begun. In accordance, companies
such as discount airlines and cigarette companies must take on the
responsibility of completing their duties, while individuals who chose to work
in a mine or drive on a private road must accept the responsibility of their
actions to do so.
All airlines hold the responsibility of transporting their customers
from a point of origin to a previously designated destination. The person who
agrees to buy a discount airline ticket, which warns to "fly at your own risk,"
is entitled to receive the minimum service of transportation provided by the
airline. The individual traveler should assume no other benefits other than
transportation. The airline company claims this act of transportation to be its
goal of services rendered. Independent of difficulties which may arise in
completing this goal, the airline may not alter the basic duty which it is
contractually obligated to perform. The airline tacitly consented to perform
this basic duty the moment they began transporting individuals for an accepted
payment. Once an individual has boarded the airplane they render all control
over their safety to the accepting airline which holds the minimum
responsibility of returning the individual back to a state of safety once their
duty is complete. The mere nature of airplane transportation forces the
individual to render total control over themselves to the airline. This
transfer of control holds the airline responsible for any action which may occur
due to the obvious lack of responsibility in the hands of the individual. Once
the plane has closed the cabin they withhold all control of an individual over
themselves, and must grant the service promised. The individual may demand the
right to existence and hold the company liable once they hold the power to
dictate all aspects of the situation.
One problem which arises within the situation is that of something
happening which the airline holds no control over. Any difficulties which arise
due to the daily routine of the airplane fall under the responsibility of the
airline. Even occurrences which are deemed unavoidable fall under the
responsibility of the airline because they hold total responsibility of their
clients once the cabin is closed. Due to the complete control the airline holds
on the situation it may be assumed that the doctrine of "assumption of risk"
applies solely to the airline. In creating a situation in which the individual
must give up his/her right to self-substinance the airline holds full
responsibility for any actions taken which may effect the safety of its
passengers. Anytime the airline engages in profit making acts, such as cutting
costs, they increase the risk upon themselves in return for extra monetary
Some may argue that some responsibility falls on the consumer due to the
warning which the airline provided prior to the purchase of the tickets. This
argument revolves around the assumption that the individual becomes responsible
due to their decision to buy a discounted ticket over the full price. Having
been previously warned about the risk involved, the individual is expected to
relieve the airline of responsibility for any mishaps which may occur. This
idea of responsibility may hold true if, and only if, the participant holds some
control over their well-being once inside the cabin of the airplane. There is
no controversy over the fact that the individual willingly accepted the
discounted rate and received a warning, but the airline still holds the
responsibility of earning its payment by completing the minimal requirement of
transportation. The prior warning only holds precedence over the individuals
ability to choose an airline which may either claim responsibility for numerous
actions, such as transportation, food, and entertainment, or act as the discount
airline and only claim responsibility for the transportation. The warning holds
no validity once the individual has lost control over their well being.
In continuing with the theory that the provider of a service holds the
minimum obligation to produce their product; the situation which arises in the
case of cigarette companies tends to raise several questions. If it is correct
that they provide a good which is legal under present law, how can they be held
responsible in any way? In following with the statement above, the cigarette
company holds a minimum obligation to the individual to produce a "safe"
cigarette. The meaning of safe in this context is meant to imply that the
cigarette will meet the safety requirements set by the government so that
individuals are not killed by a single cigarette. This act of producing "safe"
cigarettes for individuals covers the minimum obligation of the company to the
individual. In this case, any additional concerns or problems which the user
may have as a result of the product becomes the responsibility of the cigarette
addict. The cigarette company seemingly performs more than the minimum
obligation by also providing a product which fills the crave of addiction.
Continued use of this addictive product may lead to detrimental health and lung
disease. Cigarette companies attempt to protect themselves from such issues by
warning users of the inherent dangers and therefore eliminating their
responsibility for the result. After all, the individual must only notice the
risk and discontinue the use of cigarettes to reduce the risk of illness.
Therefore, it seems that the company holds no problems since they provide the
product and clearly state the risks of use. In this case it becomes the
individual's responsibility to accept the risk and suffer the consequences.
A large problem arises in the addictive nature of the cigarette to seize
control over the actions of the individual user. Although the product
acknowledges its addictive quality, the addiction still continues to seize
complete control over the situation of cigarette smoking. The user becomes
chemically dependent on the product and becomes unable to avoid the risks
associated. As in the airplane case, the cigarette company gains control over
the individual and is therefore forced to share responsibility for their actions.
By outwardly admitting the problem at hand, the cigarette company must handle
the consequences. It seems logical that the company could restrict blame solely
to the user, due to the self-inflictive nature of the problem. The problem lies
in the fact that as the cigarette company admits to the addictive nature of
their product, they emphasize the fact that they have seized control of the
situation. Taking control of the situation forces the company to take
responsibility for the outcome produced. Cigarettes are intended to be
addictive in order to increase sales. Thus, if the company shares in the awards
of the addiction, they should consequently share in the damages as well.
A case which differs, due the control of the individual over their
actions, is that of the mining industry. The only problem for the company is
that of the moral dilemma accepted by the company's executives. When we look at
the case from a distance it seems to be similar to that of the cigarette
industry, but the difference lies in the non-addictive nature of mining.
Although the company acknowledges the dangers of working in the mines, it is the
decision of the workers to accept the risk or find less hazardous job. The
individual holds the power to work in the mine or not. Unlike smoking, the mine
holds no addictive qualities which force the workers to stay. The worker
assumes full responsibility for his/her actions due to the choice to work in a
hazardous area. Since the company never gains control over the worker, the
worker stays in full control of the situation given the apparent risks involved.

The only instance in which the mining company gains some power over the
individual is in the case of monetary concerns. If the individual can only
obtain work at the mine and relies upon the income produced, it seems clear that
the company then holds some power over the individual. Although, this power is
limited by the mind set of the individual to determine the actual importance of
monetary gains. Since the mine holds no addictive quality which forces the
individual to work, the worker holds a free mind to decide what qualities of
life are most important. This freedom to decide releases the company from
responsibility of any problems which may arise as a result of the mine work, and
places all burden on the individual.
Some may argue that the mining company holds some responsibility over
the well-being of its employees. These beliefs support the idea that the
company should provide the greatest amount of safety precautions for their
workers. This can be witnessed through the use of safety equipment, medical aid,
and protective gear. Since the company has already warned about the risks, it
becomes the burden of the individual to purchase these items for themselves.
The company only holds the obligations to inform the workers of such available
equipment. If the workers feel this is unfair they may quit working and
possibly force employers to engage in such safety precautions. The
responsibility of providing payment for work is the only act which must be taken
on by the employer after they have given the warnings about the dangers of
mining. The rest of the responsibility lies in the hands of the miners who hold
the power to decide where they work.
The final case regarding responsibility of actions lies on a private
road which warns individuals of falling rocks. The sign posted at the beginning
of the road clearly states any dangers and makes the reader aware of the
apparent risks. The fundamental obligation of the road is similar to that of
the airplane in that it must provide a means for transportation from point A to
point B. However, the road differs from the plane in that the person driving is
in control of the situation at all times, and never gives up control over their
actions. The speed of travel, length of stay on the road, and the decision to
travel on the road are all decisions made by the individual and have a direct
effect on the safety of the individual. In this case the driver becomes
responsible for his actions on the road. The owner of the road met the
requirements set upon him by providing means of transport and warning of any
danger; all other responsibility lies in the able hands of the individual
driving the automobile.
The responsibility of any given action remains in the hands of those in
control of the action at any given time. As seen in the airplane and cigarette
examples, proper warning does not warrant lack of responsibility if the
individual holds no control over the outcome of the action. The mining company
and private road examples show how responsibility lies in the hands of the
individual as long as control over the situation is also controlled by the
individual. It is clear to see that responsibility for any given action remains
in the hands of those who hold control over the situation.


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