Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Death of a Reasonable Man and the Loss of the American Dream


The Death of a Reasonable Man and the Loss of the American Dream

The American legal system, including tort law, was originally based on English Common law. The threshold for a jury finding negligence or fault on a property owner or manufacturer of goods was the reasonable man. What would a reasonable man do in similar circumstances? Essentially, this bar was set so that individuals remained responsible to keep a proper lookout and a property owner only had to use ordinary care to protect visitors form harm. A producer of goods had to use ordinary care in the design, manufacture and warnings.

But over the last 40 years, the reasonable man succumbed to the theory that the general public was owed absolute safety. The manufacturer of a machine in 1950 was expected to anticipate that some idiot in 2010 could misuse the product 50 years later. 

Juries concluded that a manufacturer should notify old customers of updates in technology and force them to retrofit machines that still worked well. This has resulted in domestic manufacturers closing down and foreign manufacturers, who do not have the liability considerations, step in. Liability exposure is the reason no ladders are manufactured in the USA any longer. In order to sue a foreign company in the USA, one must comply with the Hague conventions,  hire an official translation of the papers, and serve the foreign corporation according to international law. It is an onerous process if the value of the claim is only marginally significant. And there is no guarantee the foreign entity will respond.  

The death of the reasonable man has resulted in a loss of jobs on US soil. The cost of doing business in the US has increased exponentially over the last few decades which has made it impossible for domestic corporations to compete. Add to that the costs of union labor and it is a recipe for the current financial environment we are facing. Foreign workers are imported to work in our factories because Americans refuse to work for the wages employers are willing to pay. The confluence of these factors, combined with the fact that American juries treat verdicts like lottery winnings have created an environment where American business cannot succeed. We’ve done it to ourselves and only we can change it. That means changing our attitudes and expectations. If we do not want to go the way of the Roman Empire, it is imperative that we adjust our thinking and bring back the reasonable man and woman.


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