Updated 27 October 2013

Suck it up

Shit happens, and it happens to everyone. And it isn't always someone's fault. So suck it up, says Susan Erasmus.


Why does everything always have to be someone's fault? Shit happens, and it happens to everyone. There isn't always someone to sue.

I came across an article on the internet recently that left me gob-smacked. And I don't gob-smack easily: A New York widow sued NYC for $40m dollars for 'failing to contain the swine flu outbreak in which her husband died' a couple of years ago.

Sure, it's a really grim thing to happen, but the authorities have not singled her or her husband out for punishment. And if they knew how to stop the spread of swine flu, why haven't they told the rest of the world? Forty-seven other people died at the time from swine flu just in New York. And way over a thousand worldwide. You can't sue a virus.
When we are born, we do not get given a contract that stipulates the following:
  • Life is fair
  • The world owes you a living
  • If things go wrong, it's always someone's fault
  • The earth is a safe place
  • You're really special
  • There are certain privileges to whch you are entitled
But when one looks at the ridiculous things for which people (mostly in the US) have sued, the mind boggles. How these cases ever got to court is beyond me:

  • In 1991 Richard Overton sued the makers of Budweiser Light for misleading advertising – he drank the beer, but never got to the part with the beautiful women in tropical settings. It was thrown out.
  • In the year 2000 Cleanthi Peters sued Universal Studios because she said she had suffered extreme fear and emotional distress after visiting their Halloween Horror Nights Haunted House.
  •  In 2002, Edward Brewer sued Providence Hospital for $2m after claiming the hospital was negligent in failing to stop him from raping one of the other patients.
Legitimate claims
Sometimes there are legitimate claims, such as when medical negligence causes pain or disability, when a drunk driver causes an accident, someone is hurt after falling into an un-signposted open manhole, or a new roof collapses as a result of shoddy building. But the onus is usually on the plaintiff to prove negligence.

What gets me is the assumption of many people that life on earth must be perfect, and if it isn't someone must pay for it. Who's to blame for the Bubonic Plague? World War 2? The 1918 flu?

Obviously we can expect people not to do silly things that might result in injury. If your neighbor burns garden rubbish and sets the block on fire, he is so going to pay. If someone lets her 15-year-old drive on a public road, best she gets her cheque book ready.

But there are just some things which are beyond anyone's total control: natural disasters, the spread of airborne diseases, some wars.

The best we can do is to take care of ourselves, take sensible precautions, hold our heads down and pray for the best.

Rather use the energy to be grateful for the things you do have (am I sounding like Oprah yet?). if you have a roof over your head, enough to eat, family and friends who like you, good health, a clean credit record and enough money to get by, you're doing way better than the vast majority of people out there for whom life is a bitter, daily struggle. Stop moaning – and that's an order.

I have often noticed that the people who have the least to moan about, squeal the loudest.

And when stuff happens, it isn't always someone's fault and there just isn't always someone to sue. Sometimes we just have to suck it up.

(Susan Erasmus)
(Portions of this column appeared on Health24 in 2011)

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2013-02-09 07:27



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