For many, Alex Wubbels is heroic, because she did the right thing. She courageously protected a patient’s constitutional rights, even as she was confronted and challenged by police, and wrongfully placed under arrest. The youtube video of her ordeal spread like wildfire across the internet last week.
Now, she should do the right thing again, and sue the officer and/or the department for violation of her civil rights. So far, she has deferred on whether she will bring such a claim, saying only that she did not rule out the possibility.
This is the right thing to do, not for vengeance or because it creates more work for attorneys, but because this is how the law restores balance, and properly incents citizens, police, corporations and governments to avoid wrongdoing and accidents.
In every accident or wrongful act, costs are transferred from the tortfeasor to the victim. Economists recognize this phenomenon as “cost externalization.” In a simple car accident, the cost of driving the vehicle should include the cost of accidents that may occur so that drivers are motivated to avoid accidents.
When accidents or other wrongs occur, the cost of the accident is initially transferred to the party who was not at fault (in this case, Wubbels). If those costs are not reallocated back to the party that caused the damage—if they are not “internalized” to the cost of the activity—the party that caused the injury is not motivated to take adequate steps to avoid accidents or other wrong acts. This is true no matter how many police or mayoral apologies are offered up.
This isn’t a new idea. The Honorable Guido Calabresi wrote a book almost 50 years ago—The Cost of Accidents: A Legal and Economic Analysis—that discussed this important principle. Wubbels seems to have real moral fortitude and it is obvious that she cares deeply about patients, nursing standards and constitutional rights. Hopefully, she will apply this same approach relative to her own well-being (and others who may face similar situations), and direct her attorney to file the lawsuit. We certainly should not criticize her as self-interested if she does—because, like her heroic acts that day in the hospital, she will be doing it for the benefit of others as well.