A terrible accident in India has made international news: four people died when a family trying to take a selfie fell from a dam. Two others managed to keep from falling.
The dangers of taking selfies have persisted and even eclipsed shark attacks back in 2015. One study found that 259 people have died while trying to get a picture of themselves between October 2011 and November 2017. Nearly three-quarters of the victims of these accidents are men, while the mean age was not even 23 years old. The study claims that the vast majority of the victims were in India, though Russia, the U.S., and Pakistan were close behind. However, the study was conducted in India and involved little more than keyword searches for news stories involving selfie accidents, so the geographical results were likely skewed.
While the public loves to use selfie accidents as a teachable moment to jeer at, they are still tragedies that involve real victims. While some of them involve people who were, admittedly, being reckless, many others are the result of an oversight on someone else’s behalf.
This particular selfie accident in India, for example, involves the Pambar Dam, a brick dam that is 54 feet high. Recent pictures of the dam show that there are few railings and many accessible areas with no safety precautions at all. According to one official, the family fell when someone slipped – meaning there were both no railings and the footing was insecure.
The incident brings out the tug-of-war that often surrounds premises liability claims in the U.S.
On the one hand, you have the ideas of risk assumption and comparative fault – the victims of selfie accidents frequently get hurt when they literally go out on a limb to get a cool picture. When people notice signs that tell them to go no further or that warn them of dangerous conditions, they can be held to have assumed the risks of going ahead and snapping a photo. This can keep them from holding the owner or manager of the premises liable for their injuries. Even if there are no signs but the dangers are apparent, the victim’s role in putting themselves in harm’s way can reduce the amount of compensation they receive through comparative fault or contributory negligence.
On the other hand, though, premises owners should take reasonable steps towards making sure people do not get hurt while on their property. When they ignore serious hazards that are clear dangers to unsuspecting visitors, they should be held accountable for their negligence and their omissions.
When it comes to people who venture onto the premises in order to take a selfie, property owners should actually take some extra precautions to keep visitors safe. The allure of an Instagram-worthy photo can push some people towards taking risks that they otherwise would not have taken. Once they creep towards the edge, the realization that going one inch further can be enticing enough to warrant having a fence in place to at least warn them that they may be getting too enraptured with their photo.