by Lawrence Kaplan
My friend Irv is a ridiculously careful driver. His wife and children nag him about speeding up to make the next light. When he drives only the speed limit (always), drivers behind honk, flash their lights, finally pass him screaming obscenities and resorting to sign language. Irv gets good driver discounts, never got a ticket, and, g-d forbid, certainly never had an accident.
Irv drove me home on a rainy and moonless night with his usual caution, crawling his way down poorly lit streets with parked cars lining both sides of the roads. As my friend passed an illegally parked truck, the man in the black raincoat, an intoxicated father of two, hidden in the darkness, staggered into the path of our car. The collision destroyed the body in the raincoat and the spirit of my friend; One mangled on the outside, the other hollowed on the inside.
The legal decision, at least as far as the insurance companies were concerned, seemed simple enough. Irv’s insurance took care of one of the victims; death and bodily injuries are fully covered. My friend was pleased they blamed him for it: he knew it provided for the children of the man in the black raincoat. But Irv’s suffering in silence was unrecompensed.
He was assured by all that this was not his fault. Surely the alcoholic bears most of the blame. What about the bartender that served him? The truck for parking illegally and blocking his view. The city for not providing better street lighting. There may be moral responsibility in all. A lawyer would argue contributory negligence, and a reasonable man would take none of the blame. But Irv was compassionate, introspective, caring, responsible, concerned and in the eyes of the law, most unreasonable. He was a man you wanted as your friend but never as your lawyer. He sat at home, took a few weeks off of work, then months, then years. His children suffered as greatly as the children of the man in the black raincoat did.
As viewed from my perspective in the passenger seat, the real tortfeasor was the man in the black raincoat, but legally Irv could never state a claim for his pain. Nor would this unreasonable man have ever considered it.
In a world of moral justice, there would be forums and time for victims to express their grief and to tell their stories. But where is the forum for this well meaning and unintentional tortfeasor who suffers with guilt, shame and hollowness? Where is there a court that will let him explain his guilt and reassure him he does not bear all the blame?