Monday, March 02, 2009

Sunrise Propane Explosion: Ducking out of Responsibility

Royson James of The Toronto Star wrote a follow-up column on how the victims of the Sunrise Propane explosion are doing and who is (not) taking responsibility for that massive explosion.



Several homes across from and near Sunrise Propane were destroyed. As James wrote, it "ruined the blissful enjoyment of their neighbourhood..." But the insurance companies couldn't care less.
"They don't return calls, the insurance adjuster doesn't turn up, and when they do, they try to pay out as little as possible." [said Jeff Green, resident] (James, The Toronto Star, 21 February 2009)
In other words, standard operating procedure. Insurance companies will do anything and everything to prevent you from making a claim; if you manage to file that claim, they'll chuck a little money your way, maybe, and then they'll dig in their heels. Their aim is to wear you down and force you to accept less than what you need. I'm actually quite surprised that James thinks... or maybe he doesn't, maybe he's simply writing what we all think should be the reality: "A responsive insurance company should do everything to bring a damaged house back to its original condition, quickly, with the minimum of fuss." Well, that's not going to happen.

But what about the ones responsible for this mess? Insurance companies may be on the hook, but they didn't explode the propane. Sunrise Propane, combined with The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) lack of oversight, did. But neither Sunrise, nor the province, nor the TSSA -- the arms-length provincial authority whose responsibility is to examine fuel facilities (and got real busy at it after this explosion) -- are taking responsibility. Sunrise may not have enough insurance; somehow the TSSA have made themselves immune against lawsuits; and the Liberal provincial government, as they did with their reversal on the autism cases, is ducking out of any responsibility.

James summarizes that it's "Poor oversight and indifferent politicians have left citizens vulnerable. And it's shameful."

It is shameful but I disagree. This sorry state of affairs arises and can arise because of this society's slow descent into the feel-good idea that blame is a nasty idea, that people should not have to take responsibility for their decrepit actions, that we shouldn't assign responsibility when something real bad happens cause, well, it's too late or it's not nice. It's epitomized in the recent story of that wealthy father who ducked out of parental responsibility when he had a chance, before the predictable happened and his son killed himself in Muskoka.

As people go, so do institutions. Insurance companies are notorious for not paying the full worth of claims, but that does not excuse the province or Sunrise Propane and definitely not the TSSA from owning up to their negligence. And so it's left to the courts, once again. When people and companies and governments routinely run from the consequences of their actions (Maple Leaf Foods the glaring exception), especially the financial consequences on the victims, the victims have no choice but to sue. And those who tsk tsk about lawsuits have no idea how costly these deadly actions usually are and don't stop to think that it's the responsible party who should pay, not the victims.

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