Michael N. Searles

WHO PAYS THE COST?
 

 

A popular expression is, “I pay the cost to be the boss.” The implications are plain; the exercise of authority comes with responsibility. In many ways, this reasoning seems both realistic and reasonable. If a guide leads a person into the woods, the guide assumes a certain amount of responsibility to make the trip as safe and enjoyable as possible. We know things do not always go well and when they don’t, the person in charge often faces the consequences.

The main reason professionals purchase professional liability insurance is to protect them from unforeseen events that could leave them financially and legally vulnerable. People often are hesitant or resistant to accepting responsibility especially when the cost is high. In October 2021, there was an accidental shooting on the set of the movie “Rust.” One person was killed and another was wounded after Alec Baldwin’s prop firearm discharged. The matter has not been settled at this time, but fingers have been pointed in various directions with Alec Baldwin claiming he was not legally responsible for the “accident.” It is unclear who will face legal charges and the financial burden for the death and injury.

There are other instances where guilt is more obvious. Purdue Pharma publicly released the product Oxycontin in 1996. The widespread and excessive use of the drug produced a nationwide opioid crisis and windfall profits for the Sackler family. It is estimated that between 1995 and 2001, Oxycontin made $2.8 billion in revenues for Purdue Pharma and by 2017, cumulative revenues were at $35 billion. Purdue Pharma made the Sacklers one of America’s richest families with a collective net worth of thirteen billion dollars. In a recent federal bankruptcy hearing, Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler said he believes his family and the Oxycontin manufacturer bear no responsibility for the opioid crisis in the United States. He also said that neither he, his family, nor the company had any responsibility for the crisis.

While the Sackler family has largely been accused of playing a role in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 people in the U.S. in the last couple of decades, the corporation and the family will pay only a small amount of the $8 billion settlement with the Justice Department. The Purdue Corporation will plead guilty to three criminal courts, and no member of the Sackler family will face any jail time. An average American who commits a homicide in most states faces from 15 years to life imprisonment for taking of one life. Yet 500,000 deaths in the case of the Sackler family is punishable with a modest fine.

It has been reported that 900,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Yet, many of those deaths could have been prevented according to former President Trump’s coronavirus advisor, Dr. Deborah Birx, who estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the 738,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were preventable. This information was presented to the House Select Coronavirus Subcommittee. Dr. Birx testified that more than 130,000 Americans could have been saved if the administration had promoted mask-wearing and social distancing in the early days of the pandemic. It was the lack of concern for the virus by President Trump that limited efforts to decrease fatalities.

While the Sackler family has faced condemnation and ridicule for their actions, Donald Trump has received the en- dorsement of 44 percent of Republicans to run for president again in 2024. A Pew Research Center survey indicated that 67 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents “would like to see Trump continue to be a major political figure for many years to come.” This number spiked 10 points immediately after the Capitol Hill riot on January 6, 2021. While the name Sackler may live in infamy, the name of Donald J. Trump seems engraved on the fleshy tablets of the hearts of many Americans. Some pay a high cost for their actions and misdeeds, while others are not required or even asked to pay.

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