Made Whole Again

By W. Knox Richardson

    Former President Bill Clinton said recently on CNN's "Larry King Show" as a nation we are "far from making whole again" the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

    A fundamental principle of civil tort litigation -- such as personal negligence or physical battery -- attempts to make an injured party "whole" again.  The law seeks to put the person back into the same position as they were prior to the injury or wrong comitted against them.  Compensation for almost any loss -- be it physical, emotional or economic -- uses money as a means to achieve this objective. 

    The idea that a person who suffers the loss of a limb in a traffic accident can be made whole through financial compensation is known as a legal fiction, but it is all we can do under our system of jurisprudence.   We can't literally put a person back together into one piece, so we give them money instead.

    The same fiction is now being applied to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The federal government and various states will intercede in those cases where a victim was underinsured, primarily those persons in the lowest income brackets.  The reality is those individuals and families had very little to begin with.  In fact, 26 percent of those families who lost their homes were already unemployed and enjoying some kind of government assistance.  Making them whole goes well beyond compensation and is actually putting them in a better position than they were prior to the storm.  Just having three meals a day and a safe place to sleep at night may be a vast improvement over their previous living conditions.

    The question becomes:  it is now the responsibility of the American People to help facilitate a massive redistribution of wealth in an attempt not just to make someone whole but actually compensate them for injustices inflicted upon them by systematic racial and economic discrimination, inadequate employment and education opportunities and institutional bigotry?  And if the answer is yes, what is the price we will all pay and where do we draw the line?  Why not take all poor and underprivileged people and resituate them.  Why only victims of any given natural or man-made disaster?  Why not all poor or disadvantaged people?

    Man is not responsible for the wrath of nature.  You can't sue God in court for the damages caused by hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis.  But through taxes and other forms of forced payments, we are all paying the price of making someone whole again.  If God caused this havoc, why shouldn't God's representatives on earth be compelled to pay for the damages?  We all ask for his forgiveness.  Maybe we should ask for just a bit more.

W. Knox Richardson is the Editor and Publisher of the Oahu Island News.  He holds a Juris Doctor degree from Saratoga University School of Law.