Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 1999 /15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
LEE SANCHEZ JR. was the victim of a terrible accident. He had parked his
1990 Chevy pick-up truck on a hill. Leaving the motor running and the
transmission in park (so he thought), he got out of the truck. Somehow, the
transmission shifted out of park and into something experts later called
"hydraulic neutral." And since the truck was on a hill, it rolled backwards
and over Sanchez. He died from his injuries.
Naturally, this being 1990s America, Sanchez's relatives sued General
Motors arguing that the company was liable for failure to design a
slip-proof transmission. GM countered at trial that the owner's manual
specifically mentions precautions a driver should take to reduce the risk of
a transmission slip causing an accident. Those measures include engaging the
hand brake and turning off the engine before exiting the vehicle. GM also
presented expert testimony to the effect that it is not possible, under
federal design standards, to build a transmission that does not have an
intermediate position between park and reverse.
The jury found for the plaintiffs, awarding the Sanchez family $4 million
in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages.
"Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to," Mark Twain once
quipped. But the blush is an endangered species in our brazen time. Every
injury, self-inflicted or utterly unavoidable, is now thought to be a fit
subject for a lawsuit. As we were taught in torts class -- "Find the deep
Sanchez may well have been a fine, upstanding citizen. But he did something
stupid and, tragically, it cost him his life. It is simply shameful to
attempt to hold a third party responsible for one's own foolishness. You
don't need an owner's manual to tell you that it's dangerous to walk behind
a running, driverless vehicle on a steep hill. This used to be known as
But so long as juries return such verdicts, the concept of individual
responsibility gets hammered ever lower. The Texas Supreme Court did
moderate the verdict, eliminating the punitive damage award altogether and
cutting the compensatory damages in half due to the plaintiff's comparative
fault. But the Sanchez family still walked away with $2 million of
In another automobile case that defies any concept of honor or fairness,
the unfortunate parents of a 3-year-old boy who died after being forgotten
inside a van on a 95 degree day have sued the Ford Motor Company.
Samuel Oh attended a day-care center and was to be driven home by the
center's owner, Eun Shin Cho. Somehow, Cho dropped off the other children
and then parked the Ford Club Wagon without realizing that Oh was inside.
The van sat out in the hot sun for two and a half hours, until the internal
temperature reached 180 degrees. The little boy died of hyperthermia.
The parents in this case were obviously well within their rights to sue the
day-care center -- in fact, they'd be crazy not to sue under such
circumstances. But Ford? According to the plaintiffs' lawyer, James L.
Seifter, Ford and every other car maker should make cooling devices standard
issue to ensure that when the outside temperature reaches, say, 70 degrees,
a series of fans would switch on and blow hot air out of the passenger
cabin. "Cars should be designed as cars, not ovens" he told the Law News
Two companies, Mazda and Audi, reportedly experimented with such a system
in their luxury cars but abandoned them due to lack of consumer demand. They
were expensive and were not marketed as safety devices.
There is something morally corrupt about a society that entertains such
nonsense. Smokers are presumed to be passive dupes of cigarette companies
who first brainwashed the poor sops into trying the stuff and then roped
them into a lifetime addiction to nicotine. Widespread understanding about
the dangers of smoking is ignored in this fable of human powerlessness.
Gun manufacturers are said to be next. It won't be long before fat people
sue Sara Lee (didn't their advertising intend to overcome people's will
power?) Meanwhile, the trial lawyers' wallets grow corpulent, and the
populace is increasingly
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©1999, Creators Syndicate