14 February 2009


Jurisprudence is instructive because it teaches us about social values and how we assess them, including the worth of the individual in social context, which includes the context of the economic system.

In the McDonald's coffee case (see my following entry below), the Wikipedia article says it was McDonald’s corporate policy to dispense coffee at an extreme temperature and that it calculated the number of people injured in the past and who would be injured in the future did not warrant change in corporate policy. Naturally, the lawsuit was directed at the corporate level and not at workers at the restaurant who were following corporate policy.

Also, using the principle of “comparative negligence” the customer was found 20% responsible for the scalding and McDonald’s 80%. Thus, a jury of peers, hearing the evidence presented by both sides, adjudicated the shared responsibility of the two sides for the incident. Again, American jurisprudence helps society understand how we collectively assess social values. In this case, the jury of citizens ruled that McDonald’s was indeed negligent in its policy.

Risk is tough to assess, and, increasingly modern society is full of risk, no doubt. See Anthony Giddens about what he calls the Risk Society.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_society. Risk is increasingly manufactured, human-generated risk. This is one reason we have legal institutions to sort some of it out for us, since the traditional institutions of church, extended family, and village community were supplanted by the nuclear family and nation state and, yes, legal instutions.

Many people rue the fact that America is so litigious. But, without our legal institutions, there would be little sorting at all.

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