HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 28, 2007, Herald Journal

Turning morons into millionaires

By IVAN RACONTEUR

He had what some would consider the perfect job, and now, he has the perfect retirement plan.

This is not, however, the way he portrayed his situation in court.

In court, he was a victim.

The employee testified in a Brazilian court about the horrible conditions he has endured.

For twenty years, he dragged himself to work every day, where he was forced to drink beer.

The drinking, he said, was expected of him in his role as head brewer and chief taster for Brahma Breweries.

Now, after two decades of dutifully swilling down beer all day, he has left the company.

He says he is an alcoholic and unable to hold down alternative employment (most employers discourage drinking on the job).

He says this is the fault of the company, because it did not provide measures to keep him from developing alcoholism.

He said he was entitled to compensation for this mistreatment, and a pension for life.

The court agreed.

The ruling handed down in Rio de Janeiro ordered the brewery to pay him a settlement of $49,000, a monthly pension of $2,600 for life, and an unlimited lifetime supply of free Brahma beer (excellent treatment for an alcoholic).

In what may have been a poor defense, the company alleged that the employee was already an alcoholic before becoming a beer taster.

Judge Jose Philipe Ledur said the company was still negligent because an alcoholic should never have been made a beer taster.

Ledur went on to say that the employee’s alcoholism had worsened in recent years, and even on vacation he felt like drinking the same amount he drank at work.

I have done a fair amount of research in pubs over the years, and I have met people who drank a good deal more than the average of 3.2 pints per day that this employee was allegedly force to drink, and these people were not compensated nearly as well for their efforts.

Incidentally, the employee’s claims about the terrible working conditions at the brewery did not provide a deterrent for some people.

One unconfirmed report indicated that, after the verdict was announced, 354,472 people applied for the vacant position.

The real issue here is not about alcoholism.

The question we must ask, is “when is it going to end?”

When are the courts going to stop handing out fortunes to people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions?

We should have been warned when the Marlboro Man sued the tobacco company because he somehow missed the message that chain smoking for decades might lead to cancer.

Despite the fact that he was endorsing a product with the nickname “cowboy killer,” he expressed surprise when his use of the product proved detrimental to his health.

Since then, we have seen clumsy people sue restaurants for damages when they spilled hot coffee on themselves, on the grounds that the restaurants did not provide adequate warnings to tell customers that steaming hot liquids may cause burns.

We have seen other people sue restaurants because the restaurants did not adequately warn them that consuming enough grease to lubricate the engines on an aircraft carrier just might contribute to obesity.

And now, the courts are handing out money to a brewer that claims he was unaware that constant consumption of alcohol might contribute to alcoholism.

What next?

Should a woman who works in a clothing store be compensated by her employer because she was not warned that constant exposure to designer shoes might contribute to her shoe addiction?

Should we award settlements to casino workers, whose exposure to gambling has made them gambling addicts?

Should retail employees be allowed to sue for compensation because constant exposure to all of those sales has made them shopaholics?

The fact that some of these lawsuits were not laughed out of court leads one to seriously question our judicial system.

The case of the baffled brewer took place in Brazil, but there are plenty of similar cases every year in this country.

It is time to stop rewarding people for irresponsible (if not just plain stupid) behavior.

The Bard of Avon had it right. The fault, dear readers, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

The sooner we accept this, and begin to take responsibility for our lives, rather than looking for someone else to blame for our problems, the better.

And, the sooner the courts stop turning morons into millionaires, the better it will be for all of us.