Today's ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that Riddell Inc. should have warned Korey Stringer that its helmets and shoulder pads could contribute to heat stroke has sparked an interesting debate.
Obviously, let's start by saying that what happened to Korey was absolutely tragic. It remains an important reminder of the dangers of heat stroke. But does that mean Riddell Inc. is legally culpable for his death? That's the question a jury will tackle this November, and it's one that has provoked some strong opinions.
As I read through the comments about this story on ESPN, I saw overwhelming criticism of the judge's ruling. One commenter asked if he should sue fire because he touched it once, and it didn't warn him it could burn him. Really, what that's getting at is this: Is it reasonable to expect Riddell Inc. to warn its customers of the dangers of wearing heavy equipment in hot weather? Or should people be expected to reach that conclusion on their own?
I think we need to ask the question of whether a warning label on the equipment would have somehow avoided the tragedy, because that's essentially the issue being debated here. I personally believe it's difficult to honestly make the assertion that a warning would have done much good -- because common sense should tell you that heavy equipment in hot weather could lead to some problems. Duh.
Indeed, if someone is wearing heavy equipment during a hot day, I think any reasonable person would conclude that his or her chance of heat stroke will increase. It just seems like a no-brainer to me. If you need a warning label on the equipment to become aware of that fact, you have highly questionable judgment.
Nevertheless, warning labels are assuredly on their way to helmets and padding. For the same reason that the label "Caution: Hot beverages are hot!" appeared on a cup of coffee I bought the other day.