Monday, March 27, 2017

Whose Fault Is It?

There is an old story of a burglar falling through a skylight as he is attempting to ply his craft and suing either the skylight company or the owner of the building he is trying to break into.  Details are vague, and I could not find a reputable reference – at least not of that happening in the United States.

I did find cases of a burglar suing a homeowner in California for shooting back at him and wounding him after he broke into the house and one of a burglar suing a homeowner for shooting him as he tried to get away.  In another instance, the armed robber of a pizzeria thought he was owed about a quarter of a million dollars for being treated too roughly when he was arrested.

These all seem laughable, but how do we feel when a mayor sues a pharmaceutical company because his city has a problem with drug overdoses and the crime associated with the drug trade?  That’s what the mayor of Everett, WA is doing according to CBS News.  He “is suing Purdue Pharma, maker of the opioid pain medication OxyContin, in an unusual case that alleges the drugmaker knowingly allowed pills to be funneled into the black market.”  The lawsuit is an attempt to recoup some of the millions spent on added police patrols, social workers and permanent housing for chronically homeless people to combat the spread of OxyContin and heroin abuse in the city.

When we are young, it’s common to blame our faults or inadequacies on inanimate objects – I wore the wrong shoes or the sun got in my eyes.  A few years ago the blame for all psychological problems was put on our parents.  But you can’t sue the sun or your parents, though in the latter case some have tried.

Today the perfect solution is to blame a big, faceless company and sue them for damages.  Blame the iPhone for not having the technology to prevent people from texting and driving.  Blame the Jeep for rolling down a hill when the driver failed to set the emergency brake before getting out.  Blame home tanning beds for the rise in skin cancer.  Or blame the drugmaker for not preventing the drugs from ending up in the black market.  Then expect companies to warn all customers not to misuse the product – don’t take the phone in the bathtub while it is plugged into the wall to recharge.  Every time a customer misuses a product, the company faces a potential lawsuit and then we wonder why our economy is bogged down by regulations, our costs are higher than they should be and every package is littered with often ridiculous warnings.

I'm sorry the city has a drug problem.  But shifting part of the cost of enforcement from the taxpayers to the drugmaker, does nothing to solve the core, behavioral problem.  It just raises the price of pain medicine for those who desperately need it and have nothing at all to do with the problem.  This is the lack of responsibility.  Blame the drugmaker (and their legitimate customers), not the abusers or ineffective city policies.  Perhaps a good argument in favor of legalizing all drugs is to give the mayor the tools to identify and sue the makers of the heroin as well.

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