April 2, 2009


A Queens judge ruled yesterday that subway employees do not have to do anything but pick up their phones if they see a crime — as he threw out a suit against the MTA and two workers who did nothing more to stop a rape.

A conductor saw the rape from the window on his train, and a station agent in the booth witnessed a screaming woman being dragged down a staircase inside the desolate 21st Street station of the G line. But neither one left the safety of their assigned posts to help her.

In a previous day, in a different culture, such men would have been afraid of being called cowards for failing to help a woman under such circumstances. Nowadays, they’re probably proud of acting “sensibly.” (For the record, the story says their names are Harmodio Cruz and John Koort.) And in a different world, Judge Kevin Kerrigan would have been ashamed to describe picking up a phone as “prompt and decisive action.” But he probably thinks it is.

Eric Holder talked about a “nation of cowards.” This is the real thing.

UPDATE: Reader Pierre Honeyman writes:

I agree with you, in principle, about cowardly men not acting to help people who need it, but allowing lawsuits to succeed in cases such as the one cited is a slippery slope. Having a legal principle that requires action, rather than the “Good Samaritan” laws which prevent punishing it, seems to me to be a rather slippery slope. As a law professor you surely know more about what kinds of legal precedents would be set by successful lawsuits of this nature, and I could very well be wrong, but it just seems wrong, somehow, to be able to sue someone who didn’t help you. I don’t think I’m comfortable with forcing people to consider legal hazard over physical hazard. I use that to argue for self-defense, including concealed carry, and the same argument applies here.

Well, actually I believe that traditionally common carriers — which I think the subway system would be — were required to protect against the foreseeable criminal acts of third parties, and I’d say a rape in a subway station is foreseeable. But standards tend to slip when it’s the government, for some reason. My point, however, was not about litigation, but about culture.

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