NWA EDITORIAL: A compassionate step

Benton County right to pay injured woman

It's not always about what you're required to do. Sometimes, it's about what you ought to do.

Two weeks removed from giving birth to a son, Teresa Ayala's world literally came crashing down around her. When she laid down with her baby for a nap in the living room of her Monte Ne home on June 6, how could she or anyone have known she wouldn't be able, on her own, to get back up?

What’s the point?

The Benton County Quorum Court did the right thing with a $1.5 million payment to a woman seriously injured by a piece of county equipment.

It was that morning that a road sweeper, a large vehicle operated by a Benton County employee, rolled rapidly downhill, out of control, before crashing through the exterior of her house and through to where she and her son, Juan, rested.

It shouldn't go unnoticed that the child, miraculously, really, suffered only minor injuries. In a situation like this, we'll take a blessing like that any day.

But his mom's life was forever changed. A fractured skull, broken bones in her face and shoulder, multiple fractures in her hip bone, a crushed pelvis, according to her attorney.

Ah, of course there's an attorney. As their should be. It is times like these that a good one is worth every dime.

That it was a county-operated sweeper is a significant fact in this episode. If a private company's piece of equipment had barreled through that house, the potential payout in damages could be many millions of dollars (unless Issue 1 on the November ballot passes, but don't get us started on that today). County government, however, is immune.

What's that mean? How can that be fair?

State law provides the county with immunity from injury lawsuits. The theory, we suppose, is that the county, as well as city and state governments, are out there doing the work expected of them by the public. Their activities are for public service, not profit. For government to engage in the inherent risks of developing vital amenities like public parks, trails, streets and other facilities designed to achieve public purposes, it doesn't make sense to allow them to be sued with every incident. Lawmakers recognize that government, to do its job, needs protection from lawsuits.

But right is right.

That is why the Benton County Quorum Court unanimously approved a $1.5 million payment to Ayala at a recent meeting. With the immunity protection, the county's insurance coverage would have provided Ayala with a fraction of that.

"The nature of the tragedy was such that I felt we needed to do more than what was provided for by the insurance policy," County Judge Barry Moehring said. "The family has been through a terrible tragedy. Our discussions always came back to what was the right thing to do for that family."

The county could have played hardball, but compassion was indeed called for. That's not to say the county will or should start dishing out cash for ever slip and fall on a gravel road, but the circumstances of this tragedy were special and rare. Taxpayers certainly wouldn't want to see this kind of situation regularly, but who can complain that tax dollars will help this woman, whose life and family is forever changed by the brutal injuries she's suffered?

Money doesn't solve everything and we're sure everyone involved would give anything to rewind and make sure that day never happened. Unfortunately, that's not an option, and Benton County took a reasonable step to help in its aftermath.

Commentary on 10/06/2018

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