Tugboats and 9-1-1 Technology?

June 6, 2010

Todd Piett

What can tugboats and technology have to do with each other? That’s what I was asking myself at a recent 9-1-1 board meeting I attended. Two board members who were attorneys were discussion “Tug Boat Tort”. What?!?! After a quick google search and a conversation with one of our attorneys, I learned that technology and tugboats are intricately related. In the well known case of U.S. v. Carroll Towing (I guess it’s well known if you read tort cases more than you watch ESPN), a tugboat had an accident and lost the barge it was towing. Turns out it could probably have been avoided if the tugboat company had spent the few dollars necessary to put a radio on the boat so that the captain could call ahead about conditions.

So why is this important? Well, the case established a standard and a formula that is still used to determine the liability of an entity in not purchasing a technology:

… the owner’s duty, as in other similar situations, to provide against resulting injuries is a function of three variables: (1) The probability that she will break away; (2) the gravity of the resulting injury, if she does; (3) the burden of adequate precautions. Possibly it serves to bring this notion into relief to state it in algebraic terms: if the probability be called P; the injury, L; and the burden, B; liability depends upon whether B is less than L multiplied by P: i.e., whether B

In layman’s terms, you balance the cost of implementing the technology against the probability of an incident and the cost of that incident. In our world of emergency communications, the L (gravity of the incident) is really high. We are dealing with people’s lives. That means you need to carefully weigh the possibility of a an incident occurring for which that solution you are considering could help, against the expected cost. You know the lawyers will be.

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