In each session of the Connecticut General Assembly, there is an occasional legislative proposal which extends immunity from liability to a select class of persons engaged in specific activities (such as doctors, architects, athletic trainers, etc.). Such proposals rarely stand scrutiny when they are measured against the negative exposure to members of the public who no longer would be able to recover damages when injured or harmed by immune parties, and they fail to become law.
For some reason, in this legislative session, there seems to have been an unusually high number of proposed immunity bills filed in the General Assembly. Immunity proposals are offered in many cases with the goal of encouraging business growth, and in this economy, we are all sensitive to that concern. The argument is made that if we just give these people immunity from lawsuits (often couched as needed “protection”) they may create jobs. Or, it is sometimes suggested that if we give people immunity it would encourage them to otherwise engage in activities to benefit the public or take life-saving measures on behalf of another (Such as acting as a Good Samaritan, installing smoke detectors, etc.)
In a perfect world, each of us would like to be immune from lawsuits. However, we all know that in this imperfect world, the concept flies in the face of a core social principle to which many of those who propsoe the immunity frequently refer — “personal responsibility.” Why? Because if you are immune and hold a “stay-out-of-court” card you will not be held accountable for your negligence. No matter how egregious the underlying facts of the situation are, you will not be held responsible. The injured party will never get his or her day in court.
Calls for immunity leave the victims of irresponsible behavior without recourse. Consider how much progress has been made in the last 20 years understanding the impact that trauma can have on any individual — impact that is physical as well as mental. How do we reconcile our desire to understand the extent of damage that an injury can cause, yet on the other hand consider leaving the victim no remedy? Clearly, immunity is inconsistent with our core belief in remedying the harm done to innocent victims.
Immunity is nothing more than a license for irresponsible behavior by people or businesses. It is a permanent protection against accountability. With the granting of immunity comes the slow erosion of one pillar of our democracy that is a fundamental right — the ability to take your grievance to an independent judiciary. The Connecticut General Assembly must not be seduced by the promises of those seeking immunity.
Douglas P. Mahoney, an attorney at Tremont & Sheldon in Bridgeport, is the president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association.