Japan Epilogue: (Un)Safe Harbor: 10% x 50 Years = Prison?

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We started with a premise:  A disaster has occurred.  What now

We segued into a limited examination:  Were we properly prepared?  Why or why not

Now, comes the all-too-familiar Watergate-esque finale:  What did we know; and when did we know it?

According to this comprehensive report, officials were warned that there was a 10% risk within a 50-year span of a tsunami swamping the protective barriers of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant – and disregarded it.  What result?

  • Human toll: incalculable
  • Environmental damage due to radiation contamination: incalculable
  • Damage to 'hard assets' (plant, equipment, etc): incalculable
  • Near-term cost to replace loss of % of daily supply of electricity to Japanese citizens: incalculable
  • Evacuation and relocation costs: incalculable
  • Current financial losses to shareholders of TEPCO: $30 billion dollars of market value
  • Errors and Omissions losses to insurance carriers: incalculable

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Now for the bad news.  That's not the worst of it.  How about:

  • Liability of executives, government officials, etc. for negligence.  I'm referring to all liabilities (i.e., not just financial issues), since some parties may enjoy sovereign immunity; but that doesn't address their political liabilities.
  • Liability of executives, government officials, etc. for criminal negligence.  Think that it isn't a distinct possibility?
  • Liability of corporate executives to their shareholders for massive losses due to lack of reasonable prudence.

You know what?  I have to stop now.  This feels ghoulish.

The point I'm making is, certainly, this is about as bad as a disaster gets, but we can all learn from it because there's only one item we need to change – scale.  Plus, the most important thing relevant to us in the real-life case study we're now seeing is what happens when we're wrong.

Worried eDiscovery clients always ask me how they're ever going to do everything right.  I tell them, there is no such thing.  It's impossible to anticipate everything, but as a rule of thumb, the fallback position is the basic negligence standard:

Knew, or should have known.

If they acted in good faith based on what they knew or should have reasonably anticipated at a given point in time – and present a defensible position as to why they acted – they'll likely preserve safe harbor.  Naturally, one can never completely account for the odd rogue judge.  The day all judges rule alike is the day I give a specific answer.  In the meantime, you do the best you can.

The key is in making sure you have the appropriate harbor pilot.

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