How can a company be held liable for something that hasn't happened?

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 11, 2013

Whatever happened to the assumption of innocence and the right not to incriminate oneself? What about the old corpus delicti? When did that become superfluous?

Now, in civil courts at least, it appears that defendants are often assumed to be guilty and obliged to prove their innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the meantime, they’re compelled to furnish truckloads of evidence against themselves and to finance the fishing expeditions of their accusers.

Worst of all, they can be penalized for imaginary torts, anticipated damages, harms that haven’t yet – and may never – occur.

This is not a trend to be tolerated.

The abuse has so far been confined mostly to big bad chemical companies and tobacco, paint, and gun manufacturers, but don’t these corporations and their managers, employees, and stockholders have rights, too? If their rights are so easily overridden, how secure are ours?

Marshall County Circuit Court Judge David Hummel has given preliminary approval to a class action settlement providing more than $6 million in free medical examinations for workers at coal and water treatment plants. Plaintiffs lawyers will receive roughly the same amount in attorneys fees.

The workers were exposed on their job sites to polyacrylamide, a water treatment chemical also known as “flocculent” or “floc,” which allegedly increases their risk of developing certain cancers, as well as sensory and autonomic nervous system problems.

Assuming that these claims can be substantiated and are not merely speculative, they certainly warrant attention. The floc-exposed workers might very well want to have themselves tested and to consider finding employment with less potential hazard.

But why should the manufacturers and distributors of the chemical in question be compelled to pay for examinations that may lead to more court cases and more settlements?

Was their agreement to this settlement truly voluntarily, or was there not quite a lot of coercion involved? Is this really how our justice system is supposed to work?

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