Monday 21 July 2014

Stupidity Pays

I originally thought this news article was so absurd that it will be overturned and become a non-story pretty soon, but it's still staggering to think that it actually happened.
MIAMI — A jury in northwestern Florida awarded a staggering $23 billion judgment late Friday against the country’s second-largest tobacco company for causing the death of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer at the age of 36. 
The company, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, promised a prompt appeal. 
Michael Johnson Sr. died in 1996 after smoking for more than 20 years. In 2006, his widow, Cynthia Robinson, of Pensacola, sued R. J. Reynolds the maker of the Kool brand cigarettes her husband had smoked, arguing that the company had deliberately concealed the health hazards its product caused. 
The four-week trial ended Wednesday. The jury deliberated for 18 hours over two days, first awarding $17 million in compensatory damages and then emerging at 10 p.m. Friday with a $23.6 billion punitive judgment.
Yes, that's billion with a 'b'. Or, to put it more clearly, $23,617,000,000.

So here's this guy who was born in around 1960 - six years after the first publication of the Doctors Study - who started smoking in the US in 1973, nearly a decade after the first health warnings from the US Surgeon General ... and he didn't understand that smoking was dangerous?

What's more, while millions of people all over the world were quitting as they found out, this guy was apparently incapable of that. While his wife was presumably pleading with him to ditch the fags (she was doing that, wasn't she?), he simply couldn't respect her loving wishes. We're surely talking about one of the most monumentally useless and stupid people on the planet.  

But the loss of this nose-led, fibre-challenged, astoundingly incompetent ignoramus is apparently worth the GDP of a small country? Good grief, the mind boggles.

If you have a daughter, tell her to marry someone incredibly stupid and continue to let him be so for 20 or 30 years because that's where the money is. In Florida, anyway.

The reaction to this has been interesting though. Firstly, ASH again found themselves in somewhat of an uncomfortable place, as Simon Clark reported earlier today. They know very well that this man would have been well informed about the dangers of smoking when he took it up a year after they themselves were formed on the back of growing global concern - to deny that would be to admit that US health warnings were utterly useless.

Plus, in every news article which allowed comments we saw the same disbelief from readers. From the BBC through Daily Mail to the Independent, the overwhelming sentiment was the same. How can someone be so pathetic, and why is it the tobacco company's fault? It couldn't be any other way because - on this one issue - the liberal-minded and those who hate tobacco and smoking are in the same corner.

For those who value personal responsibility, this guy made his bed and should be expected to lie in it. For anti-smokers, tobacco companies are evil but there is no-one they'd less want to benefit from a stratospheric payout than tobacco users who they class as automatically stupid simply for the act of using tobacco.

So, now we all seem to agree that the message sent here is that stupidity pays, what of the repercussions which could emanate from this? Well, no matter how large a tobacco company is, there is no way they would survive more than one of this type of precedent being upheld after appeal (think PPI tallies for comparison of the eventual liability). The business would be dead and it would have to fold. Anti-smokers may have a party or two because - as we know - prohibition has always been massively successful; smokers would obviously instantly quit and we'd live forever in a world full of unicorns and flowery rain as the global population went tobacco free.

No. Of course not. Smoking would continue but would be duty free - depriving governments of the decades-long thievery they have become accustomed to - and henceforth provided by criminal gangs. A new global "war on tobacco" tail-chasing exercise would ensue and massively cost the entirety of society in every country. Lives would be lost; innocents would be jailed; families would be destroyed; the law would be in disrepute; and rational society would again have been obliterated by well-meaning extremists.

There's a reason why uses the tag 'Florida' as a byword for idiocy, and the jurors in this case have just emphatically illustrated why.


SteveL said...

Died at "36". I think this guy would have died of lung cancer wether he smoked or didn't.
ps. If this is the quality of the legal system in florida,I advice all residents to leave now!

Jax said...

My understanding of what I’ve heard of this case (regardless of what this money-grubbing woman says) wasn’t that the tobacco companies didn’t inform the man of the health risks (because they did, via compulsory health warnings on each and every packet), but that he was “addicted.” So apparently now, companies in the States – and not just tobacco companies, either – can be held liable for any customer who becomes “addicted” to their product. I bet this decision has sent a collective shiver up the corporate spines of the makers of Budweiser, Big Macs and Twinkies … Watch this space, folks!

nisakiman said...

Indeed, Jax, particularly now that the word 'addiction' has become such a broad brush stroke. If one can be said to be 'addicted' to sex, or chocolate, or Coca Cola or video games, then the floodgates are set to burst open.

truckerlyn said...

I wonder when builders will be sued for putting stairs in a house when someone falls down them and breaks their neck? Of course, there are plenty of other similarly stupid 'causes' of death and disability that could be cited!

JonathanBagley said...

That's a very good point Steve. Looks like he's one of the 15% whose LC is not as a result of smoking. The median age is 71.

Jo Lincoln said...

Compare & contrast this settlement (which was just $1.4bn less than RJR paid for Lorillard) with the fact that Pfizer have set aside $300 million (including projected legal fees) for the settlement of 2,700 Chantix lawsuits. It's almost as if there's a rule for one, and a whole other rule for somebody else.

SadButMadLad said...

"For those who value personal responsibility, this guy made his bed and should be expected to lie in it." He probably did, it's his wife who is taking the court action though.

As for the level of the compensation, it's part of the idiosyncrasy of the American justice system, like sentences that are 1000 years long. In just about every case where the jury sets such stupid compensation amounts they have been appealed successfully.