Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why too many miss an important concept about the law of tort...

I read an an editorial in the Beaumont Enterprise recently with which I agree.  I will readily admit this is not an everyday occurrence with me, particularly when reading some of their conservative editorial opinions.

The paper editorialized in favor of more stringent regulations with stronger penalties related to the manufacture of automobiles. I wholeheartedly agree the same is needed. The thing about the editorial, however, is that the editorial writers of the Beaumont Enterprise have overlooked the very best way to assure product safety. What I’m talking about is the law of torts as it existed prior to all the conservative, Republican, giant corporation assault.

Unfortunately, regulations or standards--particularly at the federal level--are adopted or written all too often by the very industries they purport to regulate. At the very least, they are passed over strong objection from an army of lobbyists that regulations will cost jobs, raise prices and in general befuddle the free enterprise system. Too often regulations are too little too late, and too often protect rather than penalize the wrongdoers. There have been numerous efforts--some successful--to provide that if a product meets government standards then immunity is provided from any suit or complaint, no matter what the injury or shortcoming.

Should you study the regulations concerning standards for the safety of automobile seats, you will learn very quickly how flimsy these regulations are. Standards are so loosely provided that an automotive engineer can construct a car seat out of cardboard--and it will satisfy federal safety standards. 

Another not so well known secret is that boards of directors of giant car companies for many years blatantly calculated the likelihood of having to pay out damages for deaths or serious injuries against the costs of making automobiles safer. While there has been some progress to overcome this equation, it has been slow in coming. And, as the recent GeneralMotors fiasco pointed out, it has not completely gone away.

In Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe At Any Speed, it was revealed that some car manufacturers, while balancing costs versus safety, had in fact placed cars in the annals of commerce that amounted to firebombs, exposing whole families to agonizing deaths and destruction. Neither state governments nor federal governments move very swiftly to correct or reveal the extent of the dangers provided by corporate decisions. It was lawyers.

As I have pointed out numerous times, in spite of a Supreme Court decision, corporations are not people. They cannot be given a prison sentence, and all too often the fines they are assessed are a mere pittance compared to their profits. What does get corporate attention is the bottom line. The best direct route to their bottom line is to make corporations and other manufacturers directly responsible when they cause injury directly related to their choice to save money rather than make their products safe for consumption.  

What is too often said about the tort system is that it’s just a game whereby fat-cat lawyers get richer.  The fact of the matter is the whole tort system was built on a concept of self-responsibility. People, by their action or inaction, cause injuries to others in society and should be held responsible. The victims should be made whole insofar as possible. The so-called tort reformers never mention these worthwhile purposes of a good tort system–only that lawsuits may cost the richer portion of our society a little money. 

A better solution than that offered by the Beaumont Enterprise would be to have strong regulations and standards for manufacturing and then make those who fail to adhere to them strictly liable in tort for whatever damage can be proven.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are reviewed and it may take a little bit before your comment is published. Anonymous contributions take a lot longer and may perish for lack of attention.