Characters: Legal Responsibility

Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 30 minutes

Distribute the handout and explain the context of the passages (as described at the top of the handout). Ask for a volunteer to read the first passage aloud. Then ask the class who or what might be responsible for the fire, in this version. (Clive and/or Derek)

Then ask for another volunteer to read the second passage aloud. Afterwards, ask the class who or what the author suggests might be responsible for the fire in this version. (Certainly not Clive and Derek; instead, the excess flow valve emerges).

Talk as a class about how the authors manipulate our sense of who is responsible: through characters.

Finally, ask students to write the story from the point of view of the manufacturer of the excess flow valve: which characters would the manufacturer choose. Share results as a class.

Compare these two versions of a story of a fire at FruitCorp. The first version is an internal letter in which the investigator explains how the accident happens. The second version is the story of the fire that FruitCorp released to the public. (The documents are real, but the names and places have been changed.)
At approximately 3:55 o'clock AM on the morning of Saturday, July 30, 1983, an explosion and fire occurred at the plant in an area where railroad tank cars are loaded with vinyl chloride for shipment. The fire seriously burned Clive Harris, a FruitCorp employee involved in the vinyl chloride loading operation, and seriously, but less severely, burned Lola Ritchie, a fellow employee loading caustic at a loading rack approximately 15 to 20 yards away. The fire originated at tank car 96 and spread to an adjacent car 74. Your insured suffered some $950,000.00 in damages as a result of the fire.

The theory best supported by the physical evidence is that Clive Harris mistakenly disconnected the south loading hose attached to tank 96 without first closing its intake valve, thus permitting vinyl chloride to escape from the tank car into the atmosphere when the tank car's excess flow valves failed to function. This theory is supported by a number of factors: [List of factors.]
Harris relieved Derek Calzini, who had been loading the cars with vinyl chloride. It is possible that Calzini did not communicate with Harris regarding what stage of the loading procedures he had arrived at prior to the time Harris relieved him, or that Calzini communicated incorrect information to Harris regarding what stage of the loading procedures he had arrived at prior to his relief by Harris.
On or about July 30, 1983, at approximately 3:55 AM, an explosion and fire occurred at the FruitCorp plant located on Cherry Lane in Dallas. The explosion and fire occurred in an area of the plant where railroad tank cars are loaded with vinyl chloride and caustic for shipment. The explosion and fire originated as tank car 96 was being prepared for transit. The loading line connected to the south angle valve of tank car 96 either ruptured or became prematurely disconnected, allowing the release of highly flammable vinyl chloride onto the loading rack area, even though the tank car was equipped with excess flow valves that were intended to prevent this type of product loss. The vinyl chloride ignited causing this explosion and fire.