the chain of blame


Liza Bagley

You attend a seminar offered by your attorneys. At the door you are handed an ominous pack of documents and a pen. The pen explodes in your pocket and ruins your very expensive shirt – who is to blame?

Before the Consumer Protection Act, you would have had some very high hurdles to jump. You would have had to find out exactly what went wrong with the pen and then you would have had to prove that someone had been negligent. Was it the manufacturer for using faulty ink? Was it the importer or retailer, for keeping the pen on the shelves too long? Or was it the attorney – for breaking the pen or storing it incorrectly?

The Consumer Protection Act has made things much easier for the consumer and much more onerous for the supplier. An aggrieved person can now claim compensation from anyone in the supply chain – ‘the chain of blame’ – from the manufacturer to the distributor, the retailer and even the attorney who included the faulty pen in the seminar pack. Any of the parties in a chain of blame can be held liable, even if the damage was not their ‘fault’.

The only escape is if you could not have known – due to your position in the supply chain, or your limited knowledge or expertise – that damage could have resulted. In other words, if there was a strange chemical in the ink that caused the pen to explode, the manu-facturer is certainly to blame, but the other links in the supply chain could not reasonably have known this.

As an aside, the consumer must have paid for the goods in order to have a claim. If you found the pen on the floor outside the seminar venue, then you could not sue the attorney. But, if you paid for the seminar, and the pen was included in the seminar pack, well then you might just be sending your own attorney a letter of demand!

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

– William Shakespeare, Henry VI