We keep learning more and more details about the BP Oil Spill disaster and why it didn’t have to happen. In fact, even a BP partner has now come forwarded and blamed BP for reckless decisions. Rolling Stone Magazine–a publication that I think runs some of the most thoroughly researched articles on issues of national importance–points out the extreme failure of the federal government to regulate BP and the drilling industry as a whole:
Like the attacks by Al Qaeda, the disaster in the Gulf was preceded by ample warnings – yet the administration had ignored them. Instead of cracking down on MMS, as he had vowed to do even before taking office, Obama left in place many of the top officials who oversaw the agency’s culture of corruption. He permitted it to rubber-stamp dangerous drilling operations by BP – a firm with the worst safety record of any oil company – with virtually no environmental safeguards, using industry-friendly regulations drafted during the Bush years. He calibrated his response to the Gulf spill based on flawed and misleading estimates from BP – and then deployed his top aides to lowball the flow rate at a laughable 5,000 barrels a day, long after the best science made clear this catastrophe would eclipse the Exxon Valdez.
The United States is a capitalist society and that is certainly something to celebrate. Capitalism is what gives us the American dream. If you have an idea and you can do it better than the next guy, then the opportunity to profit is unlimited.
The only problem with capitalism is that man and woman are flawed. We are prone to cut corners–that’s just one of those things that makes us human. We have also learned over the last few years that corporate America is extraordinarily willing to cut corners to make a quick buck. Or billions of bucks.
So the question must be answered: who or what protects us–and our children–from the dangerous corner-cutting that we witness corporations routinely undertake? What stands between the consumer and products that put our children at risk? What stands between us and greedy bankers who send our economy into a tailspin? What stands between us and an oil company that is willing to risk destroying our environment all in the name of pure greed?
In this country we really have two safe guards: government regulation and the civil justice system. As Rolling Stone points out, the government has failed us miserably in its ability to regulate the oil industry. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise on the heels of the government’s failure to protect us from Wall Street’s abuse of the financial system. Needless to say, we probably don’t want to rely on the government exclusively to keep our families safe.
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers built our civil justice system to permit those who have been wronged through the negligence of others to seek just compensation. The civil justice system is where we turn for help when we have been injured by someone talking on their cell phone while driving. It is where we turn when a bar keeps serving a patron who is clearly drunk and then lets that person drive home. And it is where we turn when a corporation like Toyota manufactures dangerous products.
The civil justice system, unfortunately, is consistently under attack by corporate America; when you hear about runaway juries or greedy trial lawyers, those are attacks on the civil justice system. Why is it attacked so frequently by big business and corporate America? Because with weak government regulation, the civil justice system really is the only thing standing between greedy, corner-cutting corporations and the safety of our families.
The bottom line: the fear of having to answer to a jury of normal, hard-working Americans for dangerous cost-cutting is often the only thing keeping corporations honest.
[As an aside, to hear and see first hand about the battle between the civil justice system and corporation America, you should check out a great new documentary that will soon be released. You can check out "Hot Coffee–The Movie" here.]
So the next time someone talks about a runaway jury ask them about runaway BP. Or runaway AIG. Or runaway Toyota. And remind them that juries made up of our neighbors often are the only line of defense keeping our families safe.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.