Saturday, February 03, 2007

future lawsuits  

posted by Michael Piwonka 12:33 PM
I've watched with amazement as juries have awarded billions of dollars to victims of death and illness caused by tobacco use. Those cases always bring up the same questions for me:

The questions go on and on. I guess we simply find ourselves in the middle of the debate on government's role in the battle between free market activity and protection of consumers.

After all, if you really believe in unencumbered capitalism, then the government should make all drugs legal, not just tobacco and alcohol, damn the repercussions.

And if you believe the government has the responsibility to protect the consumer, then tobacco and alcohol should be illegal, like other drugs (never mind that that would be completely futile, just as it is with other drugs).

Regardless, we'll continue to use products that may have negative side effects, and we'll continue to have lawsuits. I don't see any change anytime soon to that.

Which brings me to current events. Once again, another scientific body has issued a report saying that mankind is responsible for global warming. And once again, groups like Exxon are attempting to spread doubt about the validity of those claims, currently offering $10,000 to anyone who can find errors in the report.

But my question is this: have the Exxons of the world learned nothing from the tobacco lawsuits? Capitalism dictates short-term planning; Exxon needs to fight tooth and nail to prevent reduction in fossil fuel usage so that shareholder return can be maintained in the next fiscal period.

But one day, when the owner of a coastal resort sues them because the resort is under water, will we be as amazed at Exxon's decision to obfuscate as we are with big tobacco's decisions?

Continuing down that path, what's to say that current government leaders, playing big business' cards, won't be held responsible also?

Perhaps all of them, the Exxons and the politicians, have an ace up their sleeve to shield them: the Rove doctrine of plausible deniability. Can everyone plead ignorance? Or that they were just profferring another viable explanation for global warming, not aware of the confusion their erroneous information might have caused? (Does that sound familiar to the justification for a certain war we currently find ourselves in?)

Perhaps the government needs to work to prevent "frivolous" litigation, all in the name of cost saving. Oh wait, they are working on that...


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