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Those Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy…
by J. Wroblewski
31 October 2003The Law

The great Plague of Tort must be a truly formidable monster, if it can so warp any practice of Common Sense even at the level of the operation of a humble restaurant or bar.

Recently I zipped across America to attend two professional educational conferences relating to my profession in California and Louisiana. Both were wonderfully executed (hearty thanks to the hosts) and were well worth the time and money spent to attend them. But as a strange bonus, in the course of attending these two meetings I had two sundry experiences that were rich in a sinister education.

The first part of this Road to Damascus involved simple trips to the hotel restaurant during my stay in California. Every time I crossed the threshold of that establishment I was greeted by a very imposing plaque that warned me of the theoretical dangers, as confirmed by the State government, by way of risk of cancer or birth defects if I consumed the offerings of this restaurant. Naturally I asked one of the staff who gave me a modest recitation of the “Precautionary Principle,” that is to say “ya never know” what people will sue you for whatever we serve as sustenance, so we must cover our butt. I suspect from my reading that it may be the result of some “environmental advocates’’ exhortation in response to the bogus acrylamide scare a short while back. You remember, the short lived hysteria about baked starchy food being the source of yet another hideous environmental poison. The premise is long dead, but the tort paranoia it spawned lingers. But, on to Act Two…

As I passed through O’Hare Airport on the flight path home I stopped for a snort at an airport bar. When I planted my bottom I was soon asked for my ID, as an age check. Now as much as I would like to think that I could be mistaken for a high school student, sadly that is not possible. I am not decrepitly yet am obviously middle aged. Yes, this was done as a part of airport policy, to prop up the laws of the State of Michigan enforcing the Drinking Age if 18. The policy demands checking everyone’s ID, no matter how old they look. Yes, even if you look like the Crypt Keeper, pull out that card! Who are they trawling for? The Master of Disguise? A shape shifting extraterrestrial? I got no answer on the spot, but then the echo of a fashionable obsession hit my ears. It must be a fear of an accusation of the Sin of Profiling!!! Hell, that must be it. Doing your duty, either as a cop or barmaid, slams you up against the risk that you might be offending someone either because of their race or age. Either some sort of crackpot litigation against bars has already hit the courts, or is feared to be pending. Oh, Brave New World …

I felt quite rightly that I had taken samples of a hideous pathogen, a rampant disease that is sapping the life out of America. A malady that must be costing it economic competitive strength and even simple honor in the perpetual competition with its rivals. The great Plague of Tort must be a truly formidable monster, if it can so warp any practice of Common Sense even at the level of the operation of a humble restaurant or bar.  

This experience inspires me to paraphrase that profound saying (attributed to the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, if I did my homework right), and say -- Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make litigious. It certainly nails down a sad truth about the present. 

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