Legal Implications of the Millennium Bug: The Multiple Roles of Lawyers in Coping with the Fallout from the Trillion-Dollar Computer Glitch

By Nations, Howard L.; Duke, Mark L. et al. | The Review of Litigation, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Legal Implications of the Millennium Bug: The Multiple Roles of Lawyers in Coping with the Fallout from the Trillion-Dollar Computer Glitch


Nations, Howard L., Duke, Mark L., Black, Gary R., Jr., The Review of Litigation


The Year 2000: The Nature of the Beast

A new year, a new century, a new millennium. The year 2000 will be an exciting time that will serve both as a historic milestone and as a technological launch pad for the advancement and progress of society. Yet, with the great expectations and hopes for the future that the new millennium brings, it also carries with it an ominous problem. Deeply embedded inside the cornerstone of our technological progress over the last half century-the computer-is a glitch known as the millennium bug. It stands poised and ready to usher in the new millennium, not in a blaze of glory, but in a morass of technical difficulties and failures that will launch the millennium in a most memorable but inauspicious fashion.

There appears to be a consensus among technological prognosticators that technical difficulties on a grand scale will occur beginning at 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000. There is, however, a considerable disparity in the technological community as to the nature and extent of the consequences that will flow from the millennium bug. This computer glitch has been described as the most expensive human error in history, which will result in business failures and equipment failures and lead not only to economic chaos but also "damage or even end the careers of about one-half of the senior executives in the United States."I

If the technicians are correct in their predictions, the catalogue of catastrophes that will be visited upon our computer reliant planet will be incalculable. Dennis Grabow, CEO of The Millennium Investment Corporation and a leading authority on the global financial impact of the Year 2000, characterizes the economic impact of Y2K as "The Greatest Wealth Transfer Event of the Twentieth Century. "2 Mr. Grabow further predicts that "it will be a watershed event that will define economic fortunes for individuals, corporations, institutions, and nations. In essence, Year 2000 will precipitate a significant transfer of wealth throughout the world."3

Predictions are that the Y2K bug will result in not only business failure, but also personal problems ranging from mere inconvenience to serious injuries and deaths.4 For example, a Y2K analyst in London predicts that the failure of medical equipment will lead to approximately fifteen hundred deaths in England alone. Among the leading industries in America, the health care industry is running last in preparation for January 1, 2000.5 In a recent interview, Joel Ackerman, Director of Rx2000, a nonprofit health care consulting group, voiced concern over the lackadaisical attitude of medical devices manufacturers toward solving Y2K problems, citing "a recent survey of an Rx2000 working group [that] found that ninety-four percent saw 'significant' potential for unnecessary death. "6 The Gartner Group, an information technology consulting firm, completed a survey that found that eighty-seven percent of all U.S. healthcare organizations are in danger of systems failures within the next two years.

As inevitably occurs when businesses and technology fail and when personal injuries and deaths occur, the need for legal services will soar. Estimates of the cost of the legal consequences of the millennium bug range from one hundred billion dollars by Capers Jones,8 to the one trillion dollar estimate of legal costs by Allison Rea, a legal analyst.9 The trillion dollar litigation figure was also espoused by Ann Coffou, Managing Director of Giga Information Group, an information technology advisory firm, in testimony before the United States House of Representatives Science Committee.'o While the trillion dollar estimate is astronomically high, reality probably lies much closer to Capers Jones' one hundred billion dollar estimated cost of legal services to solve Y2K problems. Under either scenario, it is obvious that handling the legal issues arising from the Y2K bug will possibly be the largest source of income in the legal profession over the next decade. …

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