When Did This Happen?

Switch
Failing network switch

When I was 12, my father woke me up one spring Saturday so I could help him with an errand. The rural mailbox of a woman on his route had been clipped by a snow plow during the winter. At first, I thought fixing it was part of a mailman’s job, but my father explained that we were simply “doing the right thing.” The woman lived alone, and didn’t have anyone around who could replace it for her.

My father reasoned that since he knew how to fix it, had the time and owned the necessary tools, it was something he would do. He dragged me along to help, so I could learn about digging post-holes removing broken posts, and more importantly, helping others. I have had many opportunities as an adult to use all of those lessons.

Partly because of that and other similar lessons, I found myself in a most unbelievable situation in the building in which I work. Several businesses were experiencing an Internet outage due to the failure of a piece of phone company equipment that we all share. The equipment was bouncing between a powered-on state and a powered-off state. When the repairman came on site, a group representing all the companies and the building manager met with him in the equipment room

The repairman suggested that the problem was likely being caused by the building’s electrical circuit. This, despite the fact that other devices plugged into the same circuit, were not affected. Nobody accepted that conclusion, but he would not budge. He said “I would have to see the switch fail while connected to an uninterruptable power supply (UPS), before I could recommend swapping it out.”

I had a brand new UPS in my office, and I offered to let the repairman use it. He said that someone else would have to plug the equipment into the UPS. One by one, the people involved invoked the barrier du jour: “I need to check with legal,” and all the respective legal people decided not to proceed. The rationale, as explained to me, was simple:

At this point, the problem belongs to the phone company, whether they act on it or not. As soon as we unplug the unit and plug it into our UPS, the problem extends to us.”

Scenarios possible and bizarre were offered: “what if the UPS fails?” “What if the UPS damages the equipment?” “What if the switch fails to power back on when we plug it into the UPS?” No, we weren’t heading down that road, unless everyone agreed to indemnify everyone else. I.e. nobody would seek to recover damages from anyone.

I’m not sure if this is the case for you, but in a lot of companies, indemnification is the third rail of a business contract. I am not even allowed to sign a contract that includes an indemnification clause, until I get permission from our company president.

When did we become so afraid of the litigious spirit of our neighbors that we simply stopped cooperating? Never mind, I gusss it was when our neighbors started suing us for damages caused while we were trying to help.

In CT, we have a Good Samaritan Law (CGS § 52-557b), that protects “certain” individuals while providing “some types” of emergency medical aid. A quick read of the 2,500 odd words making up the law and its caveats didn’t turn up any references to Uninterruptable Power Supplies or Internet connections.

Do we really need to create a Good Samaritan law for problem solving? Do I have to worry about jump-starting a stranger’s car at the grocery store? Is the advice I gave local high school students on Career Day going to haunt me when they don’t get a high-paying job? What if my neighbor needed to have his mailbox replaced?

I wonder if, when businesses send managers and wanna-be managers to problem solving seminars, they tell them “…but always check with legal before actually solving any problems.”

Sadly, I guess they don’t have to; five people, from five different companies, representing a broad cross-section of skills and responsibilities; all knew not to solve the electrical problem described above. We feared the potential cost of doing the wrong thing.

Ironically, nobody – none of us and none of the lawyers – seemed interested in considering the very real cost of doing nothing.

Note: This was revised from a post back in 2012. The phone company eventually replaced the equipment, but I’m still dealing with indemnification clauses in contracts. I decided to also add this post as a response to to the Daily Prompt – Cowardice.

82 thoughts on “When Did This Happen?

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  1. Ugh. Idemnification clauses and litigation have gotten in the way of common sense and the realization that people lose productivity when equipment like that fails. I can hardly believe that the phone company was not willing to switch out your UPS right away, other than the company didn’t want to spend money until absolutely necessary. Glad it was replaced before it became a huge disaster.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It took them about three months to swap out the switch. When they installed the new one, they put it on their own UPS. Each time that switch failed, even if only for a few seconds, our remote users lost their VPN connections. It’s a little bit of time, an easily remedied minor annoyance, but it didn’t have to keep happening. Fortunately, everything has been fine since they installed the new equipment. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dan, is APC related to Shneider Electric? I work with Shneider products a lot and I’m sure I have seen that logo in one of the catalogues. Your photo reminded me.
    Anyway, I have never heard of a situation where a UPS blew up equipment. Those guys were just scared.
    “When did this happen?” I have asked myself the same question. How we ended up in a society where you can be sued for trying to help, where we’re scared to help, and where you can see a person in real trouble but if you offer to help you’re rejected!
    The economic system ensures that everything has a monetary value attached to it. One of my colleagues once made a statement which startled me. Some sales people came to our office to do a presentation on their electrical products, mostly distribution boards, switchgears, switches, lighting fittings, etc. We were required to attend. So I asked my colleague over lunch if he’d be there. He said, “Are they paying us to attend?” I just laughed. So he added, “If there’s money in it, then it makes sense to me.”
    With that mentality, with money being the current god of the world, traditional virtues which preached kindness, selflessness, etc, are dead.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I get a lot of offers for APC equipment from Shneider Electric. I think they are one of the largest dealers for APC. You’re right about the money factor. Peter. The fear of having to pay someone. Of course, if you think about it, lost productivity is real money, too. But we don’t have to report that.

      I would still jump your car, of fix your mailbox :)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Further proof that we have dumbed down our country to the point that people can no longer make decisions and get things done. We do not teach effective decision making! We don’t allow kids to think, explore and develop solutions to problems they face everyday. It is unfathomable that we have created a business and social environment that does not allow a large (more than two) group of adults to make an immediate decision to fix an immediate problem without first exploring every conceivable reason why nobody can do anything. Yes, decisions have consequences, but let’s teach our youth and young adults that it is ok to fail, learn, try again, fail again and from those decisions figure out how to survive in this world we live in today. Great story . . . I’m afraid I’d be in jail if I had been part of the group!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You raise a good point Bob. We don’t teach kids that it’s OK to try and even to fail. We taught our daughter that, but schools don’t teach that concept. In fact, they seem to discourage anything that involves a possibility of failure.

      I was “lucky” that no one accepted my offer for the UPS. I think our lawyers would have been angry. I was counseled after lending a step ladder to the building maintenance guy. He had come up to check something in our space, not realizing that he would need a ladder. I had one and I let him use it. Who knew the risk involved in that poor decision of mine.

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  4. Reading this brought back the $2.86M awarded to the plaintiff because McDonald’s served her ‘hot’ coffee, and she spilled it on herself resulting in burns. I’ve never understood why the court system allows these frivolous cases to prevail thereby making the entire litigation process foremost in everyone’s mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember that, Judy. I never understood why the judge didn’t just throw that case out with “you don’t get compensated for being stupid.” I guess it’s like everything else. Somewhere along the line, someone ruined it for the rest of us.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I happen to know a lot about that case, but the thing is, the woman didn’t request that much money. She asked for lost wages and reimbursement of her medical expenses. The court awarded millions to the plaintiff as punitive damages from McDonald’s. They’d had so many lawsuits against them, for the same damages, and hadn’t done anything to regulate the temperature of their coffee, so the court, not the plaintiff’s attorney awarded that money, and it worked.

      The plaintiff, incidentally, had burns too severe in too private an area to discuss on Dan’s blog, but you can research it and it will make you feel like $2mil wasn’t enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yikes. I do remember that the woman was severely burned, but I always thought that putting a cup of coffee there wasn’t a good idea. In a previous job, I was frequently driving all over New England, and I never put fast-food coffee between my legs, because it was so hot. I actually used to ask them to pour it over ice or to add ice or to give me a cup of ice. Even today, McD’s coffee is hotter than I like.

        Thanks for preserving the G-Rated nature of this blog ;)

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Indemnification, Hold Harmless clause, waiver of subrogation, Good Samaritan Act–these are all part of my job. Nobody wants to do anything if 1) there is a chance they will be sued or 2) they will be unable to sue someone. Anyone. It is sad.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s so sad, Lois. When I have to deal with these things, it makes me crazy. We want to add a map to an App we are building for an event we are having. If I enable turn-by-turn directions, I have to include an end-user license agreement that indemnifies Apple if the map service causes the person to be injured, get lost, drive into the ocean. Just the kind of thing I want to give our customers.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t like the illustration, but I do like the statement of the conclusion. When seeking justice became seeking retribution, we lost ourselves. Makes me so sad. So many things these days make me sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sad but true. With all the lawsuit happy people, it is understandable why people are hesitant to act quickly. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t get involved. It’s not my concern. These all contribute to the ‘it all about me’ culture we seem to have these days.Then…someone will figure out a way to sue those who don’t help too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think some of the original Good Samaritan laws did require certified people to render assistance if necessary. I remember being advise to check the law in the state we were in, when I took a First Aid course in college in 1976. Somebody will always find a way to sue you :(

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I thought the UK was litigious with everyday practical things being wrapped up in layers of paperwork but the US has really mastered the art of litigious red tape and related buck passing. I do understand, appreciate and value that laws have been put in place to protect people. That’s cool. However, it really is sad when the simple acts of well-meaning, kind people are paralyzed into impotence by fear of consequences.

    This past winter, during a blizzard, a cable fell from our house and was dangling low into the road. I phoned the police because it was a danger to drivers. They came out and stuck “police aware” tape on it. I asked if either they or we could somehow tack the cable back onto the house to stop it being low in the road. I was told in no uncertain terms not to do so since the wire belonged to a cable company. So they left it dangling in the road with yellow tape on it. In a blizzard (which thankfully meant not many cars were out). Our telecoms company came out and wouldn’t touch it as it wasn’t their wire either. It was a wire from the time of the previous occupants. Couldn’t I just take it down then since it wasn’t in use? No! Not at all. Ugh. That cable was in the road for 24 hours before the other company came out (not customers of theirs, we weren’t a priority) and pinned it back onto the building. So a potential hazard was left for 24 hours because of some sort of legal “who owns the cable and can therefore touch it” nonsense.

    Sorry for the rant. Apparently your post “triggered” me. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rants are welcome here, Laura. I was frustrated by the “who owns the cable” rules when we built an addition on our house and had to move all those cables. I don’t know how those guys ever get any work done.

      The fact that you were trying to avoid injury and/or additional damage is irrelevant. Our town was without power for 10 days after a heavy snowstorm. Our fire chief finally decided that he didn’t care who owned the wires, he was moving some that were tangled in a downed tree, because the tree was blocking access to a dead-end street. He asked for permission and the utility said “no” – he did it anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How ridiculous that a fire chief has to be deferential to telecoms companies. It’s crazy.

        In our case, as people still new to America and its corporations, the whole cable brouhaha certainly helped sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of companies we would ever do business with.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Good grief.

    Few things are more disheartening than the journey from the “doing the right thing” America of your father’s era, to the “let me check with legal” America of our own era. I hate how the overly legalistic mindset has poisoned civic society and endangered its very existence.

    Well, your father had the right idea, Dan, no matter what the litigious vultures of today say.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved the mailbox story, Dan.
    There’s yet another reason for all the red tape… It’s the highlight of their week when somebody tries to do the reasonable thing, because they take such glee in blaming them (whether or not anything bad results).
    Just the same, have a marvelous Monday. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Teagan. I try not to think that some people might take pride or derived pleasure from blaming someone in a situation like this. I know it’s true, but I try to forget…

      Like

  11. It is gone so far that it endangers people. I once had a woman threaten me because i grabbed her two year old from running pell-mell into the street. The mother was nowhere to be found. When she did come around and saw me holding her two-year-old, who was laughing his head off, she was all over me, even when I explained that two seconds later and he would have been hit by one of many cars on Main Street. I told Mitchell about it and he said, as a man (who raised daughters by himself) he is afraid to help a child because he is afraid he will be mistaken for a masher. ALL bad things… Dan you touched a nerve with this very good post! I think we need to step back in time to a kinder place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to always stop and try to help people who were having problems on the side of the road. These days, I do think twice, particularly when it’s a young woman. Part of me wants to help, because I hope a nice guy would help my daughter, but part of me is scared that my intentions won’t be trusted. If I do stop, I ask from a distance, if they want my help. It shouldn’t be this way.

      I originally wrote this post 4 years ago, but the subject has come up again…I guess we aren’t getting back to those simpler times, Kate.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Good post, even though it is sad. We are all afraid. It’s like the Pixar movie Incredibles…the superheroes all had to go into hiding because they were getting sued by people who didn’t want to be helped…I am thankful that my “backward” state still helps each other most of the time (in corporations as well as at home)…but even here, it sometimes happens that a helping hand gets chopped off…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment. I reread the Good Samaritan law, and I’m not sure I can keep all the do’s and don’t’s clear in my head. I’m no longer certified by the Red Cross, so the law doesn’t seem to cover me. Still, if you were bleeding to death, I think I’d try to help. If you got better and sued me, I’d be profoundly sad.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I’d just rather focus on how your dad taught you to be a helper and gave you so many skills. I think there are still plenty of Good Samaritans in the world, but we don’t hear about them as much as we hear about the bad stuff.
    Businesses can’t act like people which is why Citizen’s United…

    I’ll just stop :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha, yeah, you can connect too many dots on this subject. I am usually governed (personally) by what my dad would expect if he were still alive. In business, I’ve learned to steer clear of those things that could possible harm our company. Mainly because, even if they don’t harm the company, putting the company in jeopardy will likely harm me.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I remember years ago when we did the original AIIM Conference we would donate all the leftover banquet food to local charities. The lawyers made us stop that practice due to liability concerns. People were starving, homeless people need food and the food was thrown out . . . now that made a lot of sense didn’t it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. when the flood happened on new years the town closed down… including markets. the police and firemen and all emergency workers were swamped. i tried to donate homemade spaghetti sauce to them with our stored pasta, so they could make food for the service workers. THEY KNEW ME. their lawyers could not allow them to take it in case other volunteers ate it and died…. geesh.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. GAH!! This is one of my hot buttons. In my opinion, it’s just another way for people to avoid taking ownership for fixing problems or making decisions without looking lazy or apathetic. They know if they invoke “the lawyers”, they are off the hook. Grrrr.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What I love best in your post is how your dad knew what mattered in life and what would ultimately become your way of life too. How right he was to think that way and how sad it is to discover that too many ‘legal’ things stop the best intentions.
    BTW I’ve seen my share of damaged mailboxes when I lived in Massachusetts and also in Maine. Too bad too few neighbors have stopped jumping in to fix them.
    Another good common sense post, Dan.

    Like

  17. It’s a shame that this type of thing is so prevalent, Dan. I’d love to see frivolous lawsuits be not only thrown out of court, but court costs paid for by the person or persons bringing it. Instead, these cases are often looked at as landmark cases.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well that is nice – I have done a few mailbox gardens for neighbors – but I have Learned people can get funny with helps….
        And one day I sent a neighbor some plants I had too many of – she is way across the streets but I know here from meetings and she is always at the vote booths – anyhow – had some extra annuals and sent them over – she told me twice that her husband said “why did she think we needed flowers”
        Hm
        Weird – maybe pride – who knows – so I guess it depends on the culture and the actual people – but now I usually only share food – with a note – and it keeps it from getting awkward .
        Oh and we have cemented in a mailbox for a single mom once – not in our neighborhood – through an outreach –

        Liked by 1 person

        1. People can have odd reactions to generosity at times. Our neighbor sometimes gives my wife plants he starts in the winter. Last year, hers grew but his got eaten. When she got tomatoes, she gave him some.

          Liked by 1 person

  18. The mentality today is both sad and sickening, Dan. I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had decided that it was too risky to heal the blind man, or if the Good Samaritan had just kept walking. Well, actually, I guess that world would have looked a lot like our miserable world does now….. isn’t that a depressing thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve stopped to help people on the side of the road. I’ve helped neighbors with different things and people have helped me. It seems like it can work so easily. But, as I said earlier, I have changed my behavior to a stop and ask if they want help, model. Not everyone does, and that’s fine. Just don’t sue me if I tear up a little bit of your lawn with my snow blower ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

  19. We’ve become a country of do-nothings and fraidy-cats. We hide in our private narrow little worlds letting only the people who look “right”, act “right”, and talk “right. Even at that, we keep our guard up no matter how long we’ve know the person or what his or her relationships is to us. If we have to do something to participate, we decline the event all together.

    We are the land of plenty–plenty of bad as well as good.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Shaking head. When have things gotten so complicated? It’s to the point no one wants to even help another because God forbid anything “should” go wrong, that person has now room to sue. This insanity that even though you are willing to take a chance, your hands are tied due to laws and others telling you um no, you cannot do this! My knee jerk reaction is to help someone the moment I see another in need. That knee jerk reaction has cooled a bit, having been taken advantage of and/or getting severely lectured. This world is just too crazy. Don’t stop trying to help, Dan, and I won’t either!! Another great post! Thank you! <3

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Your father taught you some great lessons. It’s sad that we have to be so “careful” when trying to help or even acknowledging a good deed. A friend of mine had to go to court because he came out of his car to see if how he could help when he witnessed an accident. Several years ago, I received a subpoena in a couple’s divorce case because I had sent a thank you letter to one of the parents for doing something nice for my classroom. The attorney wanted my testimony for that parent. I heard that my letter was read in the court.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. A perfect response to the Daily Prompt, Dan, and an equally impressive discussion of the result of our litigation-happy nation. Years ago, when I became a principal, the district’s lawyer met with me and two other newbies and told us to remember every day that anyone can sue anybody at anytime over anything and then try to sleep at night. Hah, hah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I give you credit for serving in that role. I can’t imagine the kind of fine line you had to walk. When I was a kid, if you got in trouble at school, you were in trouble at home. Today, I don’t understand a lot of things parents do.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. If I know what I am doing, I will pitch in and help. Otherwise usually hold tools, click my tongue as if the person needed sympathy. I am totally inept with technology and you lost me from the start of the work situation, Dan.
    Your Dad was a straight arrow, sometimes maybe “not warm and fuzzy” but you have to respect his good intentions! :) Helping neighbors was a main way for my Dad to enjoy retirement. That along with fishing and walking the dog plus camping out with my 3 kids.

    Liked by 1 person

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