Last summer, Ethan Cory, a six-year-old boy from the Joplin area, drowned at a small private water park called “The Swimmin’ Hole.”
His devastated parents petitioned the General Assembly to regulate the state’s water parks to make them safer, in order to help prevent future tragedies like the one that led to their son’s death. On Friday, the governor signed HB 1341 (popularly known as “Ethan’s Law”), which requires private, for-profit water parks to maintain liability insurance of at least $1 million in the event of an injury or the death of a patron. The sponsor of this legislation, during the governor’s prepared remarks, declared that “hopefully [this bill] will prevent other such tragedies around Missouri.”
Will it? Water parks have existed for more than 100 years in Missouri, so why wait until 2008 to pass this legislation if it’s so integral to their patrons’ safety? I certainly sympathize with the Cory family, but the state’s reaction is once again inappropriate. If the water park was negligent, the Cory family is entitled to a huge settlement. But bringing in the government to punish every other water park is not the answer.
Which is the greater incentive to carry liability insurance: a government mandate, or the risk of losing your entire business in a lawsuit in the event that negligence or faulty equipment results in an accident? Legislators forget the law of unintended consequences. Why set the liability level at $1 million? Why not $10 million? Or why not let the individual businesses decide what level of insurance they need? If we set it too high, do we needlessly destroy small businesses and neighborhood pools, and put people out of work?
This type of legislation is well-intentioned, but ultimately irresponsible. It justifies more government intrusion in our lives without doing anything to protect customers or to make them any safer. And now we have two more people (the owners of the Swimmin’ Hole) eligible for welfare.