Where does liability end? Is it a strict matter of law, or of what the public perceives as right and wrong?
Let’s take a quiz. Which of these are legitimate claims? Why? Which are attempts, justified or not, to reach into the other side’s deep pockets? (Hint: There are no incorrect answers.)
- Germanwings (a subsidiary of Lufthansa), because an apparently suicidal copilot crashed an airliner into a French mountain, killing 150 including himself?
- Honda, because it used airbags from an outside vendor that resulted in five deaths and scores of injuries?
- Toyota, because vehicles experienced sudden unexpected acceleration, sometimes with fatal results?
- Hospitals, because employees leaked confidential information about prominent patients to the media?
- U.S. schools and colleges, because gunmen were able to gain access to their campuses, open fire and kill scores of students and teachers?
- A popular clothing manufacturer, because subcontractors were cheating the government on taxes? (Would your answer be different if the subcontractors were cheating workers on wages or exposing them to unsafe working conditions?)
The questions are more than academic. What they boil down to is, “What did you know?” “When did you know it?” and “Could you reasonably be expected to have done anything to avoid it?”
Whether the accused is held legally and financially liable will be answered in the court or by settlements. But regardless of what’s decided there, the public will reach its own verdict — and the public’s perception is fickle.
How do you influence it? You aim for the heart, not the head. Because beliefs about right and wrong are decided by emotions, not by appeals to reason.
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