Not My Socks, Not My Socks

Decades ago I worked as a parole officer in New York City. Parolees didn’t have any rights back then; the law said they were still in prison, where they could be searched at will. That’s all changed now, of course, but in the late ’60s and early ’70s I had the right to strip-search a parolee if I thought he was hiding something. One night I decided to search a parolee who was acting suspiciously. Nothing appeared as I worked through his shirt and pants, but when I took off his shoes and socks, two bags of heroin fell onto the floor. “Not my shoes, not my shoes,” he said immediately. I told him the heroin had fallen out of his socks. “Not my socks, not my socks,” he said without a pause. “Borrowed the socks, borrowed the socks.”

I didn’t hold it against him that he thought I might believe such a ridiculous claim, what with the cell door opening for him as I picked up the bags of heroin. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that his explanation heralded a new age. It seems that no one is responsible any more for what they do; it’s always someone else’s fault. “Not my socks, not my socks” has become the byword for these modern times, not only in trying to avoid the consequences of one’s actions, but also in trying to find new ways for other people to pay for one’s misfortunes. As a lawyer, I listen all the time to people who claim someone else is responsible for the bad experience they have just suffered. In most cases, such as being rear-ended, they are right. The law says you must drive your car so as not to injure other people; that’s a duty you owe them. Breach that duty--we call it negligence--and you owe them money. But who pays if a deer runs out in front of your car and you swerve to avoid it, causing your car to roll down a hill and injure your passenger? True accidents happen, and sometimes there is no breach involved.

Creative people (some of whom are lawyers) are always trying to increase the pool of people who can be made to pay for the injuries people suffer. There was an overweight man in Seattle who sued the milk producers there because he thought they should have warned him that drinking milk would clog his arteries. He lost. But an overweight woman in Rhode Island won in court when she sued the bus company because she couldn’t fit in the driver’s cage. The city had to give her a job and make the cage bigger. A more difficult case is the recent dismissal of a suit against 911 operators for botching an emergency call that might have saved a woman’s life. Too many ‘mights, the court said; not enough of a connection between the crimes in the street and the operator who fielded the call.

And so the push continues to expand the number of people who might have to pay for injuries—physical or otherwise--to other people. Some parts of that push are good, as with discrimination laws, for example, but the milk drinkers of the world should be saying, in today’s parlance, “My bad, my bad,” not “Borrowed the socks, borrowed the socks.”


The author is a local attorney specializing in Intellectual Property law and can be reached at


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