A relatively small number of companies play a dominant role in the world economy. They provide most of humanity with most of the products and services they consume and count on. But as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether we like it or not, the significance of their presence in our lives means they can – and sometimes do – contribute to our deaths.
Tragedies will happen. Sometimes they’re caused by products or services. The question is whether the company behind the product or service knew about the risks ahead of time or had a reasonable expectation to know. Businesses which either knew the risks and did nothing about it or those which should have known but didn’t are liable to be sued for damages.
For example, a trucking company which employs an individual with a dangerous driving record is potentially liable in the event the employee causes a deadly vehicular crash. A truck accident lawyer would have no problem getting a hefty settlement for their client. This is because most people would agree it’s a reasonable expectation of a company in the trucking industry to check the driving records of their employees to ensure they aren’t a potential threat to other motorists on the road.
The most infamous example of companies knowingly endangering the lives of their customers is Big Tobacco during the 20th century. Cigarette manufacturers knew for decades how deadly their products were but kept on selling them without warnings until forced to do so by the government. Major tobacco companies were eventually sued and forced to pay out billions.
The threat of being sued for hundreds of thousands, millions, or even billions of dollars in damages sounds like it would be a tremendous motivator for companies to put safety above profit. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The scary truth is that many companies perform a cold-blooded calculus when deciding whether or not safety implementations are necessary.
While there’s no publicly stated formula given the controversy surrounding such a thing, it’s believed most major companies weigh the cost of safety measures against the cost of potential lawsuits. If the potential safety implementations are less costly than the projected legal costs of wrongful death suits, the company will choose to pay for them. However, if the bottom line indicates it’s cheaper to be sued, the company will opt to keep things the way they are.
In order to accurately determine which is the cheaper option, companies have to calculate the likely number of deaths which will be caused by the existing product or service. It’s during this part of the number crunch where major businesses uncover the number of people they can kill and basically get away with it. Whether it’s faulty ignition switches, ballistic airbags, exploding smartphones, or glitchy cockpit software, companies determine the amount of wrongful death they can potentially cause while still keeping shareholders happy.
Your local bakery and dry cleaner probably aren’t crunching the numbers to see how many people can be killed by their products and services before it hurts their bottom line. But for large companies with a foothold on every continent, the potential for wrongful death becomes a real issue to think about. Rather than do everything they can to avoid tragedy, most major businesses determine if action is necessary based on whether it’s in their financial best interest to do so.