Rights vs. Responsibilities
Frivolous Lawsuits and the American Way
by Bruno VanderVelde [April 28th, 2000]
Several years ago, a woman purchased a cup of coffee and a sandwich from a drive-through McDonald’s. Accidentally spilling the hot coffee on herself, she suffered minor burns. She sued McDonald’s, successfully, on the grounds that she was not properly warned of how hot their coffee actually is. (McDonald’s, by the way, keeps its java quite hot.)
In a now infamous case of irresponsibility, the jury awarded the woman a large sum of money.
“The people who live in the freest spot on the globe are shirking the responsibility their freedom requires.”
The case was widely reviled by the media and the public. Here was a person who had to blame someone else for her accident, and it involved coffee of all things, which as most adults know, is rarely served cold.
The same people who laughed it up about this frivolous case need to realize that this mindset is more far-reaching than they thought, with some less than comical repercussions.
That is, the onus of personal responsibility for one’s conscious actions in America is fading, and fading fast.
Of course, the victim complex (It wasn’t my fault! He-she-it MADE me do it!) is as old as humanity, but only recently, in an age of increased personal choices, has it taken center stage as the norm rather than the exception.
This epidemic manifests itself in that most noble of well-intentioned American establishments: the court of law, mostly in the form of lawsuits.
That said, no other industry is reviled in America at the moment more than the tobacco industry. The year 2000 brings with it a gloomy outlook for any tobacco company exec.
What is happening to the tobacco companies is quite astonishing. People who have been purchasing and using tobacco goods freely and willfully have, in their last days of their lives, turned their backs on the companies they have helped support and won massive amounts of money from them in recompense for something they have purposely done to themselves: that is, destroy the health of their bodies through a slow, supposedly pleasurable process known as smoking.
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Detroit News: Reduction in Frivolous Lawsuits M-LAW: Loony Lawsuit
Talk about cowardice: after you’re diagnosed with untreatable cancer as a result of 40 or more years of tobacco use, you blame the tobacco company whose brand you worshipped?
Or, on a larger level, as governor of an American state, you sue tobacco companies for the costs your state has incurred as a result of treating people who suffer disease as a result of their own conscious choices?
The 50 states, having divvied up the money, are putting the recent $246 billion tobacco settlement cash to use.
A class-action suit supposedly representing all the smokers in the state of Florida against the tobacco companies is being prepared.
A few weeks ago, a San Francisco court ordered a tobacco company to pay up $20 million – to just ONE smoker.
You didn’t want to smoke. It was the slick, regulated advertising, perfectly legal and indeed encouraged in a capitalist society that forced you to. And now, like Ivan Ilyich, you realize your days on Earth are fading, so you cry and wail for false comfort in the form of money.
While it’s difficult to think of tobacco companies as victims in their own right, these instances indicate how they have been victimized monetarily, at least, by this mentality.
“The American mentality to blame others for their own problems is known worldwide.”
Gunmakers can sympathize. These companies are being told, in effect, that they are responsible for crime, their wares having been used to commit crimes. Guns don’t kill people, people do. Sound cliché? It is. While stricter gun control is needed and gunmakers require governmental scrutiny by the very nature of the products they manufacture, holding them responsible for gun violence is a shady proposition.
In other news recently, a woman whose husband was killed in a car crash in which the other driver was high on drugs has sued the man who sold that driver the drugs. Damages requested? Nearly $300 million. While the drug dealer’s profession is illegal to begin with, it seems unfair to hold him responsible for his customer’s problem.
So, this is where we are. The people who live in the freest spot on the globe are shirking the responsibility their freedom requires.
What, then? What else can be done but to complain, as I am here?
For one thing, hypothetically, the courts could be adjusted, so as to quell the tide of selfish histrionics that come banging on their doors pleading for money as compensation for some issue of theirs.
This possibility, which is seems the most viable one, is unlikely to occur, as by all measures, it appears that the readiness of the courts (that is, the juries) to rebuff these clowns is over the hills and far away.
Coincidentally, the laws that could be passed to defer liability to the people who earn it are instead going in the opposite direction: new laws on the books in many states allow for third and sometimes even fourth parties, including bystanders, to be held liable for the most far-fetched of charges. State and federal legislators are none too happy, it seems, to keep this trend going strong.
So what it boils down to is mentality. The American mentality to blame others for their own problems is known worldwide. Sure, it’s only a stereotype, but all stereotypes are grounded in at least some semblance of generalized, bastardized truth, are they not?
This mentality doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon (at least not until all the smokers, drinkers, drug users, gun-toters, automobile drivers, crane operators, lawyers, doctors, and otherwise normal folk are dead.)
Which will take a while.
So the only thing to do? Not a damn thing but gripe about it like I am here.
And as we have seen, complaining is the American way.
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