Personal Responsibility – UK Rules OK

The abdication of personal responsibility is both a common refrain in the U.S. as well as one of the primary reasons that lawyers are vilified. Americans are happy to sue when they die in small airplane accidents (foreseeable), cut off a limb or are injured using a chainsaw or an all-terrain vehicle without a helmet, when they die from smoking, eating artery-clogging foods, etc., etc. So I was pleased to read, first the editorial in the Wall Street Journal and then the full opinion of the House of Lords in a case that seems to take a first step at stemming this tide.

It is common knowledge that we “forked” the common law, with the United Kingdom continuing to set its own precedents.  One can hope, then, that some wise American court will decide that enough is enough – and that their political future can handle a bit of back bone – and that the recent House of Lords judgement in Tomlinson v. Congleton Borough Council might have precedential value, even if from a non-governing jurisdiction.

Don’t get me wrong – there are terrible accidents and injuries every day and the legal system is intended to be used to gain redress for those victims.  Insurance companies gouge us for every kind of coverage, only to consistently fail to provide service and compensation at the level that one might be led to believe they would.  In fact, it is typical of this venal pack of hyenas to cancel and back out of policies when it becomes clear that not only will they need to make good, but that it might actually stretch their wallets a bit to do so.  In the future, our healthcare will cost $1000 a month and we will only be covered for splinters (which we can remove ourselves) and aspirin.

So, cheers to the House of Lords – and Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Hoffman, Lord Hutton, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough, Lord Scott of Foscote – and, although perhaps soon to be exposed to having a “bill to throw the Peerage open to competitive examination” (Iolanthe), long may they continue to extol such sensible judgments in the furtherance of the rule of law.