Thursday, February 03, 2005

Adventures in American Tort Law

As a law student here in Canada, I occasionally look at some of the verdict that are reported on from the United States. I generally have a conflicting reaction of intermingled envy and outrage. Damages in the United States are needless to say *coughs* just a touch more generous than they are here in Canada. But a touch I mean hundreds to thousands and occasionally tens of thousands of times larger.

As a law student, I can't help but thinking that it would be nice to have that one big payday where your ship came in and some large corporation got dinged for tens or hundred of millions of dollars. At which point as the lawyer you take an excessive cut and fees, buy your Carribean island and wander off to live the life of Riley until the end of your days. I tend to think of this as the American Legal Dream ... its like the American Dream except its playing upon populist impulses of a jury to bilk a large company out of millions while they pass on the costs to the public and everyone suffers just a little bit more as a result.

However, you read reports like the award for this tobacco judgement, where the family of a 73 year old woman who developed cancer ect..from smoking for decades was awarded 20 million dollars as compensation.

Seriously..20 million dollars because smoking was bad for you? For the last two decades this has been on tv constantly if not before that. The government and various anti-smoking groups have been trying to hammer this into your head constantly - and you didn't know? Evidently she finally stopped smoking in 1990 and died a decade later of a heart attack.

I'm honestly not sure how anyone managed to convince themselves that putting something on fire into their mouth and sucking smoke into their lungs was good for them in the first place. It seems something that can't be good any way you look at it.

This was also a voluntary action she understook, maybe for the first fifty years or so she smoked she didn't know it was bad for her. But no one made her smoke, it was her own individual decision. Ciggerettes were offered for sale, she purchased and smoked them. She contributed to her own negligence and the jury actually found her 75% responsible. I would't be adgast at the initial award of 2 million dollars.

However, going on the next day to award 20 million dollars to the family? Firstly the woman was 73 - natural causes were about to set in fairly soon anyhow. No matter what trauma the family feels, its not like the woman was cut down in her prime. Its simply a nonsensical award, perhaps it difficult to put a dollar figure on one's sense of loss but I doubt it would be more than a million dollars.

On the other hand reading some Canadian tort cases it can be a touch like trying to squeeze blood out of a stone to get the courts to award any substantial amount of money as compensation and often I think they're somewhat stingy about it. I have to wonder if somewhere they haven't managed some sort of happy media which strikes the middle ground between stingy and excess.


At 6:19 a.m., Blogger E. M. Zanotti said...

...And then people down here wonder why health care and American-made products are so expensive, or why the Bush administration is calling for tort reform. If you think the tobacco lawsuits are ridiculous, you should take a look at the suits they keep trying to launch against McDonalds for making the American people obese. Talk about lack of personal responsibility. If those lawsuits go through, I think I might sue Paris Hilton for making me dumber. I could get a decent settlement--it'd probably be enough to pay for law school.


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