Editorial – Deal or No Deal

First, it became possible to sue manufacturers for not putting ridiculously explicit warnings on packages to cover every potential misuse by consumers. Now, it appears that people who buy illegal substances from other people (read ?dealers?) can sue them for damages caused by their products. And not only can they sue their drug dealers?they can win.

A Saskatchewan woman, Sandra Bergen, won a civil lawsuit against Clinton Davey after she bought crystal methamphetamine from him in 2004 and suffered a heart attack after using the drug. (Strictly speaking, she won the case on a technicality: Davey refused to name his supplier, causing a Saskatoon judge to strike down Davey’s statement of defence and leaving him unable to dispute liability.)

Following the heart attack, Bergen spent 11 days in a coma and is plagued with ?a number of long-term physical ailments.? Bergen’s lawyer says his client and her family will be seeking damages of more than $50,000.

For now, let’s not even discuss issues of personal responsibility. And let’s forget the sheer stupidity of ingesting illegal substances (chemical cocktails that may well have been cooked up in somebody’s dirty bathtub) and not realizing that dubious quality control might cause a few problems. The true irony of the situation is this: after her win, Bergen told reporters that ?she just wanted to show drug dealers that they stand to lose whatever they have now.? She also told Canada AM that ?a lack of action within the criminal justice system left her and her family frustrated.?

If the logic behind this wasn’t so arrogant, it would be laughable. For starters, Bergen’s stance is that this drug dealer should pay?in her words, that he should ?stand to lose whatever [he] has now,? because he knowingly sold her a dangerous, addictive drug. What’s missing from the equation is that, as an equal and willing partner in the transaction, it could be considered appropriate if she, too, lost everything she had; health, family, money. (It’s true that, once addicted, a user is helpless to deny the need for a fix. But the decision to begin taking the drug came before the addiction, a choice that Bergen must take responsibility for.)

Bergen’s frustration with the criminal justice system also has a flip side. I can’t help but wonder how many families, if they were to apply Bergen’s own logic, could sue her. An addict since the age of 18 (although drug free since the 2004 incident), there’s no telling how much damage she has caused to others through her actions. Illegal drug traffic carries a swath of damage beyond the immediate buyer and seller. Crime rates rise; neighbourhoods deteriorate; innocent people?including children?are caught up in the peripheral violence that accompanies the drug trade.

As part of that trade, Bergen has doubtless caused other families to feel frustrated at the ?lack of action within the criminal justice system,? at the inability of police to rid neighbourhoods of addicts and dealers. Apparently, Bergen is making some reparation to society on that count: her story is being told on a website and she gives cautionary talks to young people.

While nearly anything that causes a setback to drug dealers should be commended, it hardly seems like justice when one person can sue another for actions, that, in the broad view, they’ve taken themselves. If That’s the case, though, Bergen might want to hang onto her winnings: the plaintiffs? lawyers just might be lining up at her door.

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