“Why Did The School Have a Stump So Near The Fence?” Our Knee-Jerk Impulse to Blame


A reader in the U.K, Hazel, sends us this ntfdkhyhyn
strange story
of a 14-year-old girl who went to retrieve her backpack, which a friend had hung on the school fence as some sort of minor joke. But then, reports The Mirror:

She used a tree stump to reach the strap of her bag but her friendship ring got snagged on the fence and tore her finger apart…

Ugh. The ambulance came but it was too late to save the finger. (Yes, her middle one.)

But what prompted Hazel to send the story was that the girl’s mom, Zoe,

is now calling on all schools to carry out renewed safety checks to make sure that such a freak accident cannot happen again.

The admin assistant said: “I hope that this incident makes the school and other schools carry out checks to make sure there aren’t any hazards like this.

“The tree stump was over two feet high and shouldn’t have been placed next to the fence”.

Um…first of all, most stumps are not placed anywhere. They’re rooted, literally, to the ground. But even if it had been rolled there from miles away, even if the school administrators had whittled toe holds into the stump,  even if they had built a primrose path leading directly to the stump with signs pointing, “This way, kids!” and, “You’re getting closer!” how is a stump a danger?

Just because something goes freakishly wrong once doesn’t mean we have to reconsider everything leading up to that accident, including — especially — everyday, normal life. (Then again, it would give vastly new meaning to politicians’ “Stump speeches.”)

Anyway; To work backwards from one sad, shocking story is exactly what the Supreme Court of Maryland just ruled against, thank goodness. That was the case of a mom  who left her daughter, 14, in charge of her 3-year-old brother. The daughter was asleep in the middle of the night when the tot somehow climbed out of bed, out of the house, and onto a 6-lane highway. For this, the mom was originally found guilty of neglect.

The state’s Supreme Court reversed that decision because, as David Pimentel, author of Criminal Child Neglect and the Free-Range Kid: Is Overprotective Parenting the New Standard of Care?, wrote:

Despite the jury’s hindsight-aided view of the case, the fact that the child ended up in serious danger did not make the otherwise reasonable decision to leave the child in the care of his 14-year-old sister a criminal act.

Using hindsight is fine if it gives us new insights into a real problem. But hindsight is ridiculous if it finds a “culprit” that is extremely unlikely to cause the same fate again in the very same circumstances. In those cases, we have found not a smoking gun, but an excuse to sue.

Let’s not confuse the two. – L


Maybe Papa Bearenstain has the right idea!

Maybe the mom could call Papa Bearenstain as an expert witness! 



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45 Responses to “Why Did The School Have a Stump So Near The Fence?” Our Knee-Jerk Impulse to Blame

  1. Walter Underwood July 27, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

    Pretty much by definition, “freak accidents” cannot be predicted or prevented. Silly people.

  2. Theresa July 27, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Just one question why is it the fault of the stump the kid got hurt when she hurt herself on the fence? Shouldn’t it be the fence’s fault? I know it was an accident but if if we’re going insist on something being at fault shouldn’t we blame the thing that which actually caused the accident.

  3. diane July 27, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    On a sidenote, in the article itself there are links to other stories of children and medical adversities; they’re all described as “brave”. That’s nice and all, but is anyone (maybe an adult?) ever described in these instances as timid or cowardly? 🙂 I guess the Mirror is a bit sensationalist.

  4. BL July 27, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

    “Shouldn’t it be the fence’s fault?”

    Or the ring’s fault?

  5. Becks July 27, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    What about…it was the girls fault! oh wait, no it was the mums fault coz she wasn’t there to tell the girl not to climb the stump and to stay away from the evil fence. She dion’t stop her from wearing jewellery outside and didn’t protect her from mean friends who hung her bag on the fence.

  6. Liesbet July 27, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    I know one person who lost her middle finger about the same way, but it was on a rack, not a fence. I think about that every time I climb onto a stool to get something high when I’m wearing a ring. My uncle almost lost his finger that way too. I think we should banish ALL rings from the earth! They’re dangerous! 😛

    And about the toddler who got out (and killed?): very, very sad. But here in Belgium babysitters start at around 15, not much older than the sister anyway. A bit on the young side, maybe, but 99,999999% of the time, everything goes just fine! And moreover, the toddler could have gotten out with his mother at home as well, probably…

  7. Backroads July 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    Sounds like an incredibly unfortunate accident. I’m really not sure how anything or anyone is at fault.

  8. pentamom July 27, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    Theresa and BL, I had exactly the same thought. She was injured by the ring and the fence, but it’s the stump’s fault.

    If she had been climbing on a step stool somewhere else and caught her hand on something, would it have been the stool’s fault?

    I guess the default assumption is that a FOURTEEN YEAR OLD should not be enabled to climb up and reach things.

  9. Ron Skurat July 27, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    An equally valid question would be “why did this student wear a friendship ring near the fence, it’s an obvious danger that could’ve been prevented by the student’s mother.”

    Which merely shifts the blame to where it usually ends up anyway. Clearly all jewelry should be banned.

    It’s a FREAK ACCIDENT – there is no one to blame, by definition.

  10. Denise July 27, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    Obviously we need to rid all yards of trees wherever they exist. I mean, what if she had climbed a tree? No trees, no stumps, problem solved.

  11. Theresa July 27, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    Well Ron if we’re going to insist on blaming something that has no control over what happened then we should at least blame the right object. I know it was just freak accident but we seem to have a hard time with the fact just an accident.

  12. Workshop July 27, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    Totally off topic, but that picture of the Berenstain Bears book makes me think that Papa is dragging some Lovecraftian horror down the hill to show Mama.

    “That stump must go! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh! Ia! Ia!”

  13. diane July 27, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Liesbet, the toddler referenced in the link above was found by a motorist before harm came to him, thank goodness.

  14. Warren July 27, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    And this is why I have never worn jewelry. Not even a watch. The work I do and the lifestyle I lead makes rings watches and the like a controllable hazard.
    But this was just bad luck.

  15. lollipoplover July 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    “I’m not blaming anyone, it was all a joke and all happened so fast. I was just unlucky.”
    ~the 14 year-old student

    “Mum Zoe, 41, is now calling on all schools to carry out renewed safety checks to make sure that such a freak accident cannot happen again.”

    Sounds like the daughter has more sense than the mother. It was a “freak accident” from a ring caught on a spiked fence. Where is the outrage over the jewelry?! And the students who played this prank on their classmate?Why all of the blame on the stump? Seems misplaced when we randomly point fingers to feel better about freak accidents from wearing RINGS.

  16. railmeat July 27, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

    Fences? Stumps? What do these two things have in common?

    They are both *outdoors*. If that kid had been kept indoors, where she belonged, this never would have happened.

    Just think of all the things that could happen outdoors!! It’s a jungle out there!! Keep our kids safe! Keep them INDOORS!! If just one child is saved by keeping them all indoors, isn’t it worth it?? If you think otherwise, their blood will be on YOUR hands!

    /end sarc (just in case you thought I was serious)

  17. Stacey Gordon July 27, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    The school administrators in this story as dumb as a STUMP.

  18. pentamom July 27, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    Workshop, LOL!

  19. Ariel July 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    “moreover, the toddler could have gotten out with his mother at home as well, probably”

    As a person whose toddlerhood stories sound reminiscent of Spider Man, I agree. Dude, I was climbing out of my PLAYPEN (those ones with the mesh sides!)

  20. Shawn Dawson July 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    This is a known and not uncommon accident. The danger isn’t the tree thought, it’s the ring.

    Jimmy Fallon (late night host) fell last year in his kitchen, caught his ring, and severely damaged his finger. It’s not the fault of the kitchen.

    This is one of the reasons why jewelry is not allowed around power equipment — such as in wood shops, or factories, nor in sports, nor canneries (anything with moving belts and equipment).

    To address the problem — the school would need to ban the wearing of rings, necklaces, ear-rings, on school grounds. I am of course not suggesting this, as the risk is low enough to be acceptable. But to blame the stump is wrong.

  21. hineata July 27, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    We cannot get rid of all rings. ..we NEED the One Ring to Rule them all.

    But yes, Warren, not a good idea to wear in most trades, I would have thought. Certainly I’ve not met a tradie who wears one in work time, nor many nurses actually.

    As to adults being timid and cowardly. ..not that they’re described like that in writing , but medical staff often laugh about how ‘brave’ El Sicko is with needles, and how timid some of their ‘big strong man’ clients are. My own dad, pretty much the macho type in all other ways, could be reduced to tearful moans at the sight of a needle ☺. But, seriously, comparisons are very unfair – anyone who relies on needles or other icky procedures is going to become accustomed to it pretty quickly, or suffer worse consequences. …whereas some poor adult who never usually needs anything should be forgiven for weeping, LOL.

  22. Suzi July 27, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

    So far as Warren not wearing rings for his work, lifestyle? Just common sense. I took a self-defence class years ago and I wear an engagement ring with a high setting which if you scrape yourself (and I have and it has caught on the side of things and gouged my finger many times in 30 years) you’ll hurt yourself. I was told I could use it as a great weapon to hurt someone attacking me by ramming it in their eye or scraping their face which would CUT them badly. So, taking all this into account, I’m surprised rings haven’t been banned in schools albeit I know kids don’t wear engagement rings. Just rings in general. Because. You know. brrrr………

  23. fred schueler July 27, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

    well, after my wedding ring had gotten so it wouldn’t come off my finger, the free-range wife made me have it cut off before I went to James Bay in 2002 – just in case I were to get snagged in the way this girl seems to have been snagged

  24. NY Mom July 27, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    Re backpack: Kids will be kids.

    Re Maryland Court Case: Maryland courts and Justice have been in the news a lot.
    Seems like they are currently trying to improve their public image by faking sanity. Or have they actually been training their staff to get it right? Either way the best interests of the public are the final test and I applaud their decision to recognize that neither the Mom nor the fourteen year old did, or failed to do, anything a prudent person would or would not do under the circumstances.

    Accidents happen.

  25. Nicole July 27, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    I kind of blame the media here… the girl clearly handled this better than her mom, who is probably an emotional wreck and said something silly. Of course the media quotes her, and the school responds in their own sympathetic if illogical ways. She’s probably not reading this, but I would hope those who might encounter someone like this in real life would offer sympathy, and really only get riled up of she actually caused the school to make changes affecting their own child (ie. banning outdoor play or something)

  26. Havva July 27, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

    @NY Mom,
    Maryland did have a policy change in their call screening procedures. The meat of the below link starts on page 9 of 23. Where they state that Family Law Article 5-801(a) was “originally written as part of a fire code” and “The statute does not apply to children left unattended outdoors.” It then goes on to add that “Children playing outside or walking unsupervised does not meet the criteria for a CPS response absent specific information supporting the conclusion that the child has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm if they continue to be unsupervised.”

    You can read the whole thing here:

  27. SKL July 27, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    What was a 14yo wee child doing wearing a ring? Hadn’t her mom read the warnings?

    Seriously. Some people’s mental activity is downright scary.

  28. Katie July 27, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    When an accident like this happens a lot of people will whisper in your ear how much you should try to sue, even when there is no fault. A family member got in a car accident (100 percent other drivers fault) but people tried to convince us to sue the city too, just to get extra money without regard to the fact that it would result in more petty laws. I wonder if this is happening here. Maybe they think they can get some money and aren’t thinking beyond that. But anyway if I were the mom or dad i would be embarrassed for trying to blame the school or a tree stump for my daughter’s freak accident.

  29. CLamb July 27, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

    Was the friend who hung the girl’s backpack on the fence as a joke punished for causing the girl to lose her finger?

  30. Jason July 27, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    @Nicole – Compassion is a wonderful thing, but it’s only acceptable here when the subject of the blog is portrayed sympathetically. In this case, these people are being held up as objects of ridicule, so please get with today’s program.

  31. lollipoplover July 27, 2016 at 7:31 pm #


    I agree. The daughter obviously holds no grudges and realizes it’s was a freak accident, but the mom bringing the stump into this has me, well, stumped.

    OT- but the quotes from the mom in this story had me spit out my ice tea (and now craving some good hibachi):


  32. Theresa July 27, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    Lollipoplover of can’t imagine why anyone would want the toy in story you mentioned. It’s a toy that pees on you. Kinda gross. Not a good image for place serving food and I can’t imagine who would enjoy it.

  33. Mary July 27, 2016 at 11:35 pm #

    Lenore, you certainly have a AX to grind , I’m surprised you didn’t make it to the stump before the finger!
    Sorry but I’m still reeling over your insane excuse for inappropriate sexual behavior of 14 year old sex offenders…- and Lenore, did ya ever think, MAYBE, just MAYBE, abductions are at an all time low because parents are careful with their children?
    Maybe ask Elizabeth Smart? I agree there is some madness and over protection going on but I think you’re way off in quite a few cases- especially the SURPRISING age of a sex offender.
    A child traumatized by a sex offender isn’t going to card them after the trauma and feel better and relieved if that pervert was only 14 and not 18.
    Grow up your children don’t make rxcusesx for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a sex offender at 14 is an even creepier one at 32.

  34. diane July 28, 2016 at 12:13 am #

    Mary, on the contrary, the ax seems to belong to you. Please contribute intelligently to the discussion at hand. In any case, your comment belongs on the previous post thread.

  35. James Pollock July 28, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    “Lenore, did ya ever think, MAYBE, just MAYBE, abductions are at an all time low because parents are careful with their children?
    Maybe ask Elizabeth Smart?”

    Good idea. Ask the girl who was taken from her home, while her parents were home, whether or not abductions happen because parents are careful with their children.

    “A child traumatized by a sex offender isn’t going to card them after the trauma and feel better and relieved if that pervert was only 14 and not 18.”

    Perhaps not. Of course A) not all victims of 14-year-old sex offenders are children, and B) not all sex offenders even HAVE victims. And then C) not all victims of sex offenders are traumatized.

  36. J.T. Wenting July 28, 2016 at 12:33 am #

    #StumpLivesMatter !
    Clearly this is an outrage of discrimination against innocent stumps that never hurt anyone.

  37. sexhysteria July 28, 2016 at 2:45 am #

    It was all the fault of the friendship ring.

  38. Katie G July 28, 2016 at 6:25 am #

    When my now-92-year-old grandmother was in junior high, something very similar happened. She climbed over a fence and a ring caught on it. She lost that finger, the left ring finger, so for all 63 years of my grandparents’ marriage her wedding ring was on her right hand. I don’t know when my mom or her siblings noticed the missing finger, but I know that my cousins and I were all around ten before we did!

  39. Katie G July 28, 2016 at 6:28 am #

    James, you might have just hit a nail right on: whether sex offenders have victims! There’s the place to start in revising the sex offender registry system: remove the ones whose offense really has no victim: the public nudity, that sort of thing, that merely annoys or disgusts but doesn’t hurt anyone.

  40. Tuckerglt July 28, 2016 at 7:37 am #

    Just as a guess, the reason the stump was “placed” there is because a tree used to be there. The tree was chopped down because it was considered an attractive nuisance for climbing by the kids.
    Obviously the only safe way to go is to eliminate nature, pave these spaces over with some safety soft concrete.
    (I am now working on the invention of Safety Soft Concrete(TM), I hope no one steals my new idea 🙂

  41. delurking July 28, 2016 at 9:01 am #

    The whole world is not like this. I work in a science lab. We have high-school interns. Recently, a high-school intern was working in the lab, alone, which is normal here. She set a lab wipe on fire by mistake. In her sudden panic, because she was holding a flaming lab wipe, she threw it in the trash can. The trash can, of course, had used lab wipes in it so suddenly there was a bigger fire. She ran out and called the emergency number, and the fire department came and put out the fire (we are large, we have an on-site fire department).

    The responding fireman and one safety guy reviewed the situation for about 10 minutes. Did the intern have the appropriate lab safety training? Yes. Was the lab itself up to spec.? Yes. What could we do differently? Not much, there is only so much you can do about an irrational panic response. Tell the intern to drop flaming wipes on the counter; it is fire resistant. Something like this is unlikely to happen again in such a way that changing our training or procedures would do anything. Incident closed.

    Some days, I feel like this web site aggregates low-probability irrational safety responses from around the world, and thus gives a false impression of how likely they are. Nevertheless, given the sometimes completely irrational legal-system responses to low-probability events, thank you for your efforts.

  42. Red July 28, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    And why is the ring not being blamed?

    Rings are actually dangerous pieces of jewelry–ask a paramedic. A lot of people suffer finger injuries due to rings being caught on something. And say, platinum wedding rings–paramedics HATED when those became popular because they couldn’t be cut with the common ring cutters that ambulances were stocked with.

    I know someone who lost his finger to a platinum wedding ring.

  43. Papilio July 29, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Now that we’ve decided the ring is to blame, I think this mom should take her daughter’s ring back to Mordor and throw it into Mount Doom. That’ll teach it!

  44. Scott July 30, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    It would be simpler to ban friendship rings, obviously they are a menace! :-/

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