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ISSUE 119 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/24/2006

Letter to the Editor

By Letter to the Editor
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 24, 2006

After reading “Case Day planning thwarted,” I was severely disappointed, not by another administrative overreaction, but by Dean Greg Kneser’s ignorant and unrealistic portrayal of liability law. Dean Kneser claims that student organizers and any supporters of Case Day could be held legally liable for harmful actions of Case Day intoxicated students, drunk driving, sexual assault or alcohol-poisoning deaths. Under the blanket-term of “supporters,” Dean Kneser included local companies that could potentially manufacture Case Day T-shirts. After he contacted the Northfield printing companies, he explained, “Larson’s and Rocky Top understand the legal liabilities they could encounter if they were a part of it as well, and choose to decline the business.”

Dean Kneser’s dire warnings of civil and criminal liability are completely absurd. Consider, for example, Daytona Beach, a likely destination for any Ole looking for a spring break party. Every shop on the beach sells “festive” apparel, adorned with some variation of “drink a lot, have a lot of sex, spring break ‘06.”

Unfortunately, some of these shirt-wearing students drink too much and wind up killing someone in a drunk-driving accident. In this situation, who is legally liable for damages? According to one attorney couple (my parents), certainly the drunk driver, maybe the driver’s friends and possibly the bartender or club owner (circumstantial), but as a count of Daytona’s shirt shops will reveal, certainly not the T-shirt vendor.

The situation would be different if the T-shirt manufacturer were directly involved in the pre-accident consumption of alcohol (by providing the party facilities, the alcohol or bartending services), but in Daytona and here in Northfield, the simple sale of a pro-consumption T-shirt carries essentially zero liability for the vendor.

As the dean of a 3,000-student college, Dean Kneser has significant influence on the worldly outlook and opinions of the student body. He also has a significant responsibility to present an accurate description of the legal ramifications of controversial campus issues.

By issuing groundless threats of legal liability, Kneser has hampered local businesses, damaged the integrity and reputation of his office and imparted an incorrect and misleading view of the American legal system onto the student body. The next time Dean Kneser wants to threaten legal action, perhaps he should first consult an attorney to make sure his threats reflect the reality of the law, and not the often imagined “this-is-America-so-you-can-sue-anybody” fabrication of popular culture.

– Eric Scholten ‘08

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