Monday, April 23, 2007

Cashing in on accidents.

There is a lot of this going on in the UK these days. Nobody has accidents any more. It’s always someone’s fault. There have been cases where a schoolchild has sued the school because he kicked a glass door and hurt his leg. Another won a school sports race and sued for friction burns from the winning-line tape. These are real cases. I’d say there’s a better case for sueing the school for wasting taxpayer’s money by attempting to educate the terminally stupid. It’s not just confined to small-time cashing in though.

Cadbury is a big, big chocolate manufacturer based in Birmingham, UK. They’ve been in business a long time and produce a high quality product.

So it was surprising to find they recently had to recall a lot of chocolate because of a Salmonella scare.

As far as I’ve seen in the news, nobody died, nobody was even infected. The contamination was detected at the factory and the company informed the public and recalled the chocolate.

An entirely reasonable course of action, you might think.

Birmingham city council thinks otherwise. They are prosecuting Cadbury for this mistake.

Now, I fully expect Cadbury to lodge a defence of ‘due diligence’, which means they took all steps they could reasonably be expected to take in their production machinery. They deal in dairy products. There is always a risk associated with such products. Risks can be minimised but rarely can they be entirely eradicated. I fully expect a company with Cadbury’s reputation to successfully defend this action.

What I wonder about, in this case, is whether Birmingham City Council have given the slightest thought to the effect this will have on other companies in their area, and on new companies thinking of moving within their jurisdiction. New investment, new jobs—would you move your company there, with the knowledge that if you make one mistake—even if you take corrective action—the city council will prosecute, with the promise of unlimited fines?

I'm self-employed. I have public liability insurance in case I accidentally damage someone during the course of my work. It's not likely to happen so my insurance is cheap, but I didn't buy it so that some city council could cash in on it. I, for one, will not move to Birmingham and will now avoid carrying out any investigations there.

That’s the message I see, as a 'company' owner, from this action. Make one single mistake, act at once to correct it, and then lose your livelihood to the council lawyers.

If the council win, where does the money go? Compensation for victims? There were no victims. So where will it go?

I’ll be surprised if the council win this one.

I won’t be surprised to hear that businesses are leaving the Birmingham city council’s area in droves.

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