Electronic Design

Are Legal Issues Getting In The Way Of Good Deeds?

Our legal system is perhaps the best in the world, protecting us from many of the consequences of our actions, or opening avenues of redress when others try to relieve us of our money or impact our freedoms. But sometimes it may intimidate us and make us over-cautious when it comes to doing what would probably be perceived as good things.

One example of this recently came to light when an organization I know was downsizing and tried to find a way to donate some older computer hardware to a public school or not-for-profit organization. Although the recipient was more than willing to accept the hardware, legal issues started to cloud the donation. Is there an implied warranty? Is the donor responsible if the machines should fail or cause damage to the recipient's other systems, etc.? Although the questions raised are valid, many companies have transferred equipment to organizations before. These old issues shouldn't be an excuse to undermine the desire to donate.

Yet, these concerns have a chilling effect on potential good deeds. Some fear that a used computer or some other product may be a proverbial time bomb. Could the power supply self-destruct and cause a fire? Is there a hidden virus waiting to propagate through the rest of the systems? Will the disk drive fail after all of the proprietary data has been loaded? The list goes on. It's true that many things could potentially go wrong, and most possibilities also apply to new systems. But really it's a matter of whether we let these issues control us, or we take charge and eliminate the issues so that we can do good.

To satisfy the legal issues, there could be a standard disclaimer form that a recipient could sign to sufficiently remove the donator from the hot seat. But that wouldn't take the donor totally off the hook. I feel that there should be some type of reciprocal statement made by donors that they have performed a nominal amount of due diligence to ensure that their products aren't trouble in disguise.

Should this release be done at a local level, or should we as country keep the field level across this great nation and create common criteria that would be appropriate in every state? Without some form of protection, corporations would be very hesitant about donating surplus products. The result: more fodder for land fills and reclamation facilities. In the long term, that's potentially more devastating as the dumping grounds fill up and materials like lead and chemicals from batteries and other items seep into the ground, further polluting the earth.

Where should we draw the line when it comes to liability for donated goods? Granted, the legal system isn't perfect and it often makes mountains out of molehills. However, I think that we can find ways to bring those mountains back down to at least small hills. At the same time, we can provide significant benefits to our public and not-for-profit organizations that may continue to take advantage of what we consider out-of-date products.

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