Litigation v. Jail Time

Many times I hear the argument that we need to adopt the European legal system. The belief is that the Europeans don’t sue, make it very hard to sue and that is a better system for defendants. That is correct; however the European system also has a little twist we don’t have in the US: Jail Time.

In Europe the requirements to start a lawsuit are very high and the types of things you can sue over are limited. However the requirements to be arrested and charged with a crime are low, are much broader and the level of proof to convict someone are much lower. Example of this is playing out in the US and France this week.

On July 25, 2000 a Concorde jet crashed in France killing all on board. On July 3, 2008 Continental Airlines and two Continental employees were charged in a French court with manslaughter. The crash was attributed to a piece of a Continental jet falling off as the jet was taking off. That piece of metal was run over by the Concorde jet causing a tire to blow out and the parts going into the engine causing the crash.

Here in the US, Continental might be sued for this type of thing. Maybe money would be exchanged, maybe. No crime would be charged because there was no scienter or “criminal mind.” No one was attempting or thinking about a crime, there was no criminal intent.

That is not required in Europe or France, where by the way you are guilty until proven innocent to some extent.

In most European countries there is a very different way of approaching problems. There the government is in charge of making the public safe. In realty, in our “Laissez-faire” business environment most businesses are kept in line by the threat of litigation. In Europe businesses are kept in line by the government who puts you in jail if you are not doing a good job, if you fall out of line.

For information on the charges against continental airlines see: Airline to be tried for Concorde crash and French court to try US airline over Concorde crash.

Laissez-faire by the way is a French term.

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