The death of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas four years ago shook the sports world. The nine-time Pro Bowler was an icon of sorts in Kansas City. He was killed in a traffic accident on a January day in 2000 while on his way to the airport.
As is customary in these cases, the Thomas family sued General Motors, the maker of the vehicle Thomas was driving. The star's seven children and their five mothers were seeking $75 million. On Tuesday a jury said the family was not entitled to any damages against the automaker. Having followed this trial with some interest, the jury got it right this time.
By virtually all accounts, Thomas was speeding during snowy conditions and was not wearing his seat belt. Another passenger too was unbelted and died. A third passenger wore his seat belt and walked away from the mishap. These facts alone were all the 12-member jury needed to know to rule against the $75 million request.
A death by any means and at any time is indeed a tragedy. But when it comes time to assess blame for a death, far too many people want to become victims when that is simply not the case. Had Derrick Thomas been driving to match the conditions of the day and had he worn his seat belt, chances are he would still be playing football. But we don't seem to want to accept blame so we point an accusing finger at someone else. In this case, it was the automaker. The Carnahan family did the same thing with the aircraft manufacturer when much of that tragedy resulted from poor weather conditions and pilot error.
I certainly don't blame those who feel sincerely that some other factor resulted in the death of a loved one. I would take the same approach. But in the Thomas trial, it seemed like such a slam dunk. By now we should understand that speed, poor driving conditions and no seat belts are a recipe for potential disaster. That applies to everyone.
We should all mourn the passing of another fellow man. And we should accept the facts that surround each and every death. In the case of Derrick Thomas, his celebrity, his fame and his notoriety should not mask the tragic mistakes he made that fateful day.
The jury in this case agreed.