Duck, Duck, Blame
It all started with a cup of coffee. In 1994, Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s Corporation and was awarded $2.9 million after she spilled a cup of hot coffee in her lap while driving her car. Although Ms. Liebeck herself had spilled the coffee, a jury found McDonald’s guilty of serving coffee that was ‘too hot.’ The case was well publicized, and Liebeck seemingly ushered in a new and incredible era of lawsuits that reward people who make very bad decisions.
The current legal landscape in America seems to be a sort of grownup game of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” wherein a person who has committed some kind of gaffe is ‘It,’ and he must tag an innocent party to take the blame. If the wrongdoer can tag someone else and run, then use fancy legal footwork to avoid being caught, they have effectively ‘ducked’ the blame.
Big Tobacco is the Big Loser in the most recent round of this high-stakes children’s game. A Florida jury has determined that five tobacco companies must pay $145 billion in damages to the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit. The class action suit was preceded by a $12.7 million case, known as the Engle case (after Dr. Howard Engle, one of three plaintiffs in the case).
Philip Morris has vowed to immediately appeal the ruling, and in all likelihood the verdict will be overturned, as all five companies would be bankrupted if forced to pay the amount decided upon by the jury. However, the issue is not the amount the companies have been ordered to pay. The issue is that they were found liable at all.
Tobacco companies are not the cause of the health problems that the plaintiffs face. They have no one to (rightly) blame but themselves. Smokers know the risks of their habit when they start. There are warning labels on every package, and no shortage of public service announcements making sure that everyone receives the message. Tobacco users make an informed decision when they buy tobacco products. They simply choose tobacco over good health. That they have triedand succeededto place the blame on an industry that simply gave them what they asked for is a testament to the lack of personal responsibility that this country faces today.
All over the United States we see fingers pointing, day after day. Nowhere is lack of personal responsibility more obvious than in the gun control debate. Criminals kill peopleit is an unfortunate part of humanity. Whether they use guns or sharp pencils is irrelevant; if criminals want to end a life, they do so.
Today more than ever, it seems that murderous criminals are not responsible for their activities. All gun violence is apparently the fault of the gun makers who are, as everyone knows, placing guns directly into the hands of young children and teaching them to shoot one another. Gun violence is also the fault of television and movies, which are filled with extremely attractive people killing one another, encouraging people to believe that they will be more attractive if they kill people, too.
There is nothing more ridiculous than a grown person trying to blame her own dubious actions on everyone else in sight. Consider Darva Conger of “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire.” She paints herself a victim of circumstance, an innocent. She says she never wanted publicity or fame. Yet she appears on television more often than Larry King, and recently posed for Playboy Magazine. She crashed the parties after the Academy Awards, and is trying to obtain a deal for a television show. Ms. Conger would have my respect if she simply admitted that she is making the most of a lucrative opportunity and left it at that. Instead, she points her finger at Rick Rockwell (the millionaire with whom her marriage was annulled), Fox Network, the paparazzi…anyone but herself. It is bewildering, considering she chose to be a contestant on the show to begin with.
I ask Ms. Conger and anyone else who would shift blame away from where it belongs to remember this old cliché: “Whenever you point a finger at someone else, four are pointing back at you.” Grow up, America. As a nation, we left grade school long ago. It is time to stop playing childish games and accept responsibility for each and every one of our actions.