There are some jobs so inherently dangerous that there is only the knowing assumption of risk for engaging in the activity. One such job is being a Red Shirt.
The three seasons of Star Trek had 43 Red Shirts die (a total of 59 crew members “died” in TOS).
That means over 70% of mission fatalities in the series were Red Shirts (Thank you Matt Bailey at Site Logic for the excellent research & analysis).
Those statistics certainly give new meaning to the Vulcan saying of “live long and prosper.”
To put these numbers in perspective, other fictional characters with an abnormally high mortality rate include:
1) Serving as the commanding officer of the Battlestar Pegasus (Admiral Cain, Commander Fisk and Commander Garner were all killed in a matter of several episodes on Battlestar Galactica); and
2) A mom in a Disney movie.
Need evidence? Just ask Bambi. Or Nemo. Or Belle. Or Cinderella. Or Ariel. Or Jasmine. Or Snow White. Or Tod (from The Fox & The Hound). Or Mowgli (from The Jungle Book).
And may God have mercy on a Disney mom in a red shirt.
How Red Shirts Can Die
This was the only time a female Red Shirt died on an away mission with Captain Kirk.
Killed by Plant: One Red Shirt met his unfortunate end after being shot by a “Pod Plant” in The Apple.
The episode also included exploding rocks, lightning and tribal villagers killing Red Shirts.
Vaporized: There is no shortage of Red Shirts who are shot with a laser beam and vaporized. Notable examples include Nomad killing three Red Shirts in The Challenging.
Vampire Cloud: A Dikironium Cloud was an alien that absorbed every red blood corpuscle from its Red Shirt victims in Obsession.
Beamed into Space by Sadistic Children: Get your phaser out if there are children performing a creepy chant “Hail, hail, fire and snow, call the angel, we will go, far away, for to see, friendly angel come to me.” Bad things are about to happen.
And the Children Shall Lead saw the deaths of two Red Shirts who were beamed into space, thanks to the pack of children in desperate need of therapy who used their mental powers to make the crew believe they were in orbit around a planet.
Killed by Alien: There are many incidents of aliens killing Red Shirts. Just take the death of the Security Officer by the Horta in The Devil in the Dark.
The Horta was the last of her race and laying eggs to repopulate her species. Construction threatened her children, prompting the mother to defend her offspring. While definitely not an evil life form, a Red Shirt was killed by the Horta’s highly corrosive acid.
Requirements for Assumption of Risk
Assumption of Risk generally requires an express agreement (there can be implied assumption of risk from conduct), knowledge of the risk, and voluntary assumption of the activity (see, generally Assumption of Risk).
Military personnel and emergency rescue professional understand their jobs have risks that might kill or seriously injury them (this in the broadest sense is known as The Fireman’s Rule). However, just because firemen, paramedics and police know their job has the risk of death, does not mean there are not situations where they can recover from a part for their injuries. For example, under California Civil Code § 1714.9:
(a) Notwithstanding statutory or decisional law to the contrary, any person is responsible not only for the results of that person’s willful acts causing injury to a peace officer, firefighter, or any emergency medical personnel employed by a public entity, but also for any injury occasioned to that person by the want of ordinary care or skill in the management of the person’s property or person, in any of the following situations:
(1) Where the conduct causing the injury occurs after the person knows or should have known of the presence of the peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel.
(2) Where the conduct causing injury violates a statute, ordinance, or regulation, and the conduct causing injury was itself not the event that precipitated either the response or presence of the peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel.
(3) Where the conduct causing the injury was intended to injure the peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel.
Cal Civ Code § 1714.9
The “Fireman’s Rule” is defined under case law as “– a person who, fully aware of the hazard created by the defendant’s negligence, voluntarily confronts the risk for compensation.” Ries v. Lee, 115 Cal. App. 3d 332, at *334-335 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1981).
Case law provides excellent examples of when barring recover is proper on assumption of risk and when it is not. Consider the following:
Police officer who was in a high-speed chase was barred under the “fireman’s rule” from recovering damages he sustained during his pursuit of the driver in the course of his occupation. Ries v. Lee, 115 Cal. App. 3d 332 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1981).
A car driven by a second suspect hit a police officer after he arrested the first suspect. The police officer could recover, because assumption of risk for which the officer must face based on the public policy “. . . was not intended to be so all inclusive as to encompass intentional torts directed against the fireman or officer while trying to perform his duties after he has been called to the scene of a law violator.” Shaw v. Plunkett, 135 Cal. App. 3d 756, 759-760 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 1982), citing Krueger v. City of Anaheim (1982) 130 Cal.App.3d 166.
Dog groomer was not barred from recovery after being bitten by a dog, because the beast remained at all times under the exclusive control of defendant, who had uncaged it and was holding it on a leash. The plaintiff had not determined if she would be able to groom the dog due to its vicious behavior and the dog remained in defendant’s exclusive control at the time of the bite. Prays v. Perryman, 213 Cal. App. 3d 1133, 1137 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1989).
Train employee was not barred from recovery for injuries he received after riding a switch engine between his areas of employment, because 1) riding the engine between the two places of employment had been customarily done by the employee and other employees, 2) such practice was not forbidden by the employer, and 3) riding the switch engine was the only method of travel between those points was along the railroad tracks. Associated Indem. Corp. v. Industrial Acci. Com., 18 Cal. 2d 40, 44-45 (Cal. 1941).
To Boldly Go…On An Away Team
The mission of Starfleet is to “seek out new life and civilizations” and “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Moreover, there is no guarantee that every new life form and civilization is going to be friendly.
Or like the color red.
So, what does this mean for our brave Red Shirts?
Given a 70% mission fatality rate, they should recognize becoming a Security Officer or Engineer is profoundly dangerous (And possibly a bad life choice).
Considering a career in Science, Medical, or Command statistically looks safer (It is worth noting that the Lt. Areel Shaw, the only Starfleet lawyer in The Original Series, wore red).
However, Blue and Yellow Shirts have had been murdered by possessed shipmates as in Wolf in the Fold or killed with giant spears in The Galileo Seven. No career choice is ever totally safe, especially one that voyages into the unknown.
The Needs Of The Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few (in Red Shirts)
Red Shirts arguably are fully aware there are hazards in “boldly going where no one has gone before,” and voluntarily confront those risks by joining Starfleet. While that would certainly be true for “normal” injuries sustained in the line of duty, it is not a universal constant.
There are situations when a Red Shirt (or their surviving family) could sue a tortfeasor for injuries they have sustained.
The issue would be whether the injury was sustained in the “normal” course of Starfleet service (such as shorting out circuits in a Jeffries Tube or a battle with Klingons) or when someone intentionally created a dangerous situation directed against the Red Shirt while they were performing their duties. Examples of intentional conduct would include a scientist harboring a creature that will suck the salt out of people (The Man Trap) or not stopping a war game with a computer that vaporizes Red Shirts and destroys other Starships (The Ultimate Computer).
Finally, considering all of the Red Shirt fatalities based on intentional conduct, it is surprising that no plaintiffs law firms were created specializing in Red Shirt tortuous injuries.