Sunday, December 26, 2004

Another note on vaccines

Let's say you invented a system for cars that would drive passengers to their destinations automatically. You tell it where you want to go, the system drives your car there without further guidance. Your system is such a good driver, it has 1/10th the accident rate of a human driver. It only costs $1,000, and if everybody used it would save tens of thousands of lives.

Great business idea, right? Wrong. Your invention will never make a dime, because of trial lawyers. Despite the fact your invention has a net effect of greatly reducing injury and loss of life, you are liable every time it DOES have an accident, and the trial lawyers will bankrupt your company with multimillion-dollar settlements for the 10% of accidents you didn't prevent. This is exactly analogous to the vaccine problem: vaccines save lives, but they are unprofitable because in very rare cases people have reactions to them, and the companies that make them are sued.

There have been efforts in the past to create a "net benefit" provision in the law to exempt companies from such liability in situations where there is clearly a disproportionate benefit to society at large from their product. Guess which special interest group goes all-out to kill it every time?


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