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Home Articles of Interest A Life Sentence for Being the Boss?
A Life Sentence for Being the Boss?


Grandpa says: In recent years, responsibility for accidents has been criminalized both in Europe and the USA. Top executives have been criminally charged for fatalities, even when the cause of an accident was the failure of low level employees or systems beyond their control.

G. Bethune, The retiring chief executive of Continental Airlines as of 2005 may face murder charges in France. A Concorde was taking off a few years ago when its tire was punctured by a piece of titanium that fell off a Continental jet. People died. Why was Gordon Bethune being charged?

“The use of titanium in civilian airplanes was not authorized,” said a French magistrate. As in the bad old days in communist countries, the French legal system seems to be saying “Anything not authorized is forbidden.” The reality is that government prosecutors want scapegoats for tragedies. The idea is that a supervisor or CEO is culpable. Why? “He didn’t properly shape the corporate culture to be more sensitive to issues of safety.” That vague charge could be enough to get a CEO a life sentence. 

In Japan, the CEO of truck maker Mitsubishi was held responsible for a death involving a defective clutch. In Italy, the Milan airport manager got six years because a ground radar system had been broken for a year at the time of an accident. It might have prevented a collision on the ground. Never mind that many big airports don’t have any ground radar at all. Or that there was no assurance that working radar would have prevented a corporate jet from using the wrong runway – the event that actually caused a fatal crash.  

Florida brought 110 charges of manslaughter against maintenance company executives after their company, SabreTech, was implicated in the 1996 ValueJet crash. In Canada, Australia and Great Britain new or pending legislation will make it easier to criminally charge individuals or heads of companies that have sold a defective product. 

In traditional criminal law, for an individual to be found guilty there must be a direct link. A person must knowingly commit a wrongful act. In cases of gross negligence, a failure to take elementary precautions could be enough to assign responsibility. But a direct connection between the acts or omissions and the cause of the accident had been required. The trend is to nail a criminal charge on anyone in charge when a mishap occurs. 

Businessmen or corporate officers can now be charged with homicide after an employee, customer, or anyone dies. It no longer matters that the boss or supervisor had no direct role in the incident, wasn’t the cause of it, wasn’t aware of the risk, and could not have forseen the unfortunate situation. Accidents will happen. In the case of accounting errors or fraud, under the new laws (applicable to publicly traded companies), the head of a company is liable. Just being a boss has been criminalized.  

Are PT style precautions, designed to protect your ass and your assets, called for? You decide.



© 2006 Bye Bye Big Brother