Shelby Logan's Trial

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Last Sunday night I landed in Seattle around 11:30 PM after a weekend of sleep deprivation, and seven hours later I headed back to the airport for a day jaunt to Las Vegas to testify in a civil case against one of the organizers of Shelby Logan's Run. For some reason the idea of flying from San Jose to Seattle and then to Las Vegas seven hours later seemed better to me than taking an extra bag with me to No More Secrets and flying directly to Vegas from San Jose. It actually worked out fine, and I can report that the desert is far more allergy-friendly than California.

Shelby Logan's Run was a Game run in Las Vegas in 2002 by some Microsofties. It was, in many senses, the Game to end all Games. While this event had puzzles, the focus was on over-the-top experiences (and where better to offer them than Vegas?). In the course of the event some or all of us camped in a dry lake bed during a torrential thunderstorm; powerboated and scuba dived on Lake Mead; shimmied up a rock chimney; captured, cared for, and ultimately scanned a living rat; fired a semi-automatic weapon; drove ATVs across sand dunes in the black of night; rode a free-fall ride atop the Stratosphere tower; performed a song in drag at a gay bar; got pierced ears; explored an abandoned prison by flashlight; and more. It was my first Game, and no Game since has delivered anything close.

The Game ended prematurely when one player fell thirty feet down a mine shaft and became paralyzed from the neck down. A clue sent teams to a site where there were multiple abandoned mines, and in plain, unencrypted text told teams to enter a specific number and no others. This player entered the wrong mine (without a flashlight, I believe), and fell. A very real tragedy.

Inevitably, perhaps, lawsuits followed. I don't know who exactly sued-- the player, his family, or his insurance company-- but all organizers of the event were named in the suit, and all but one settled out of court. The last holdout finally got to trial, and I was asked to testify for the defendant which I was only too happy to do.

Every player signed a waiver when they sent in their fee to participate. A scary waiver. It explicitly called out that players might be called upon to perform strenuous activities (and listed many examples), with possible consequences including death. I remember talking about that waiver with my teammates before signing it-- it was hardcore. I don't know how that waiver holds up under Nevada law, but it wasn't vague and it wasn't perfunctory. I took notice.

I was in the van when the unfortunate player's team arrived, and the defense wanted me to testify as to their behavior and to provide the jury with a first-time player's perspective about the Game. I agreed for many reasons, the most important of which being philosophical-- people in our society don't take enough responsibility for their own actions. Were there things the organizers could have done to prevent the accident? Yes. But ultimately, the tragedy was the man's own fault. Americans don't like saying that. We like pointing fingers and finding someone else to blame. But every single player signed that waiver. They knew the event involved operating on very little or no sleep. They knew physical activity was involved.

Earlier in the event I drove an ATV at night and opened up the throttle a bit-- until I hit the next dune. I sailed over the crest and my headlight illuminated... nothing. I had absolutely no idea where the ground was. I could have been catapulting into an abyss for all I knew. It was terrifying. Not in the casual sense the word is commonly used, either-- I mean heart-stopping, pit-of-my-stomach, images-of-snapping-my-neck raw terror. When my wheels touched down, I immediately eased up on the throttle and took a safer, more sedate pace. I took personal responsibility for my own safety. Nobody told me how fast to go. That was up to me. I chose the level with which I was comfortable.

Players were given specific, explicit instructions about where to go at the mine site. What happened was terrible and tragic, but ultimately someone didn't follow instructions, went somewhere he'd been told not to go, did so alone and entered a dark tunnel without a flashlight. People in our society need to accept more responsibility for their own actions, even when those actions are tragically wrong. And in this case, I didn't believe the event organizers should be held responsible.

Philosophically, I wish that all the organizers had gone to trial instead of settling. I understand the desire to just have it all be over with, though, and not wanting to endure the stress or risk of a trial. The one defendant who went to trial was mainly responsible for programming the hand-held electronic device used throughout the Game, which had nothing to do with that particular clue site. My understanding is that, while the plaintiff attacked the waiver, the defense strategy had nothing to do with it but rather that the defendant simply had no part in planning, organizing, or executing that particular clue or clue location. Yesterday I found out that the jury returned a verdict that the defendant did not act negligently, which I assume means he's off the hook.

I understand the plaintiffs are still going after the owners of the mine, and there I think they have a much stronger case. Why on earth wasn't that mine shaft sealed? It seems so obvious. And so, while I think the plaintiff bears responsibility for what happened, the mine company unquestionably shares in it. I hope the plaintiff has better luck going after those deeper, and more culpable, pockets.

5 Comments

I was agreeing until your last paragraph.

Why do you think the plaintiffs have a much stronger case against the mine owners? The organizers invited you to play (waiver or not) and directed you towards the mine (albeit not the one he fell in). They got you within spitting distance of danger (in more places than that, judging from your other comments). I don't imagine that the mine owner(s) knew or approved of the game, and suspect they posted "No trespassing" and "Danger" signs. [Did they?]

I'm know there's some theory of 'attractive danger' ('attractive nuisance?' something like that, covering drowning in an unfenced swimming pool, etc etc), but I thought that only applies to children.

If the plaintiff is due money from anyone, it seems that it's from the organizers. The fact that he was tragically hurt doesn't magically make anyone at fault, though (as you agree).

If it's the plaintiff's responsibility, it's his responsibility.

If it's not, then I don't see why the mine owners are more culpable than the organizers, unless there are lots of details missing.

I don't know the details of what permissions the Game organizers did or didn't receive at that site. But the organizers of the Game didn't own the land. IANAL, but I believe that landowners are legally responsible for foreseeable accidents on their property. Leaving treacherous mine shafts unsealed and accessible to passersby strikes me as gross negligence with foreseeable consequences. Under the same system of jurisprudence that says that if I place a bed of nails beneath a window, I'm responsible for any burglar who comes through that window and injures himself even though the burglar was trespassing, the owners of the mine should be responsible for trespassers who fall down an unbarricaded, unfenced, unprotected mine shaft.

Of course, the law is not always consistent, and again, IANAL.

Well, setting a trap for someone (placing nails under the window) is different than an accident. Should you be liable if a burglar fell down your stairs, because they tripped over a kids toy on the floor?

Ignoring the law, we disagree about who is liable. Still, the call for more personal responsibility is a worthy one; and we agree on that.

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