Cross Posted from The Tortellini:
I was reading Gretchen Morgenson's column($) in the New York Times Sunday and heartened to see her give the "What Would Stalin Do?" award to Robert Nardelli, the CEO of Home Depot, for running the company's shareholder meeting like a Gulag chief.
Nardelli, if you'll recall, appeared with George W. Bush early last year at the White House Economic Conference panel on tort reform, a cause Nardelli has embraced as his company's safety record has deteriorated. Home Depot shareholders this year finally got a good taste of the paranoia about public scrutiny that the company has shown in dealing with injured workers and customers.
In 2003, the Atlanta Business Chronicle published a disturbing investigation into the dangers that lie in Home Depot's aisles of plumbing pipes and aluminum siding, including the story of a 3-year-old who was crushed to death by 2,000 pounds of falling kitchen counter tops. The series highlights Home Depot's legal strategy of covering up stories about people injured or killed in its stores through aggressive use of confidentiality agreements at all levels of litigation, not just in settlements.
None of this is new, but Nardelli's dishonorable mention Sunday just reminded me that I've often suspected it's not really just money that drives business leaders to support tort reform, but transparency. Personal injury lawsuits rarely put a dent in big companies, which have insurance and deep pockets to pay out most of the awards against them. But those suits often dislodge important (and embarrassing) information from companies about their public health and safety records--information that the government rarely obtains. And that's why CEOs hate them so much, especially people like Nardelli, who just can't countenance anyone on the outside questioning the way his company does business, even if it kills someone.