stuffhappens.jpgPassengers of the U.S. Airways flight that landed recently in New York City’s Hudson River are having a hard time getting the airline’s insurance company to pay up.

Why the reluctance to pay additional compensation beyond the statutory minimums?

Because by all accounts U.S. Airways did everything right and nothing wrong. The proximate cause of the crash was an exceedingly rare double bird strike that totally incapacitated both engines. Indeed, the passengers owe their very lives to the extraordinary efforts, near-perfect flying, and correct decision making, made under incredible stress by the pilots.

In other words, sometimes stuff just happens. U.S. Airways’ insurance company had an obligation to pony up if, and only if, U.S. Airways in some way breached its duty to its passengers. U.S. Airways is only liable under our legal system if it had been negligent in some way. It is not enough that U.S. Airways (or its insurance company) is the closest deep pocket around when a bad thing happens.

As a nation, we could go to a strict liability system, where the existence of negligence or breach of duty is not a factor. Beyond the higher insurance costs, the chief of problem with strict liability is that if the good and diligent pay up the same as the sloppy and the bad, then the incentive, the motivation, to be good and diligent is greatly reduced.

We sometimes think that life owes us fairness. Truth is, life never promised us a rose garden. Sometimes stuff just happens, bad things happen to good people, and there is no one to blame, no one to hold responsible. Because no one did anything wrong.