By now we will all have seen the case being brought to the courts by Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey following her fall from a swing in a Dublin hotel. I, as have many of you reading this, have been rightly outraged at the case. Given the intense focus on fraudulent and exaggerated insurance claims in the media, it was shortsighted of her at the very least, arrogant at worst, to proceed with such a frivolous suit.
Since the story first broke, I've seen hundreds of comments on social media regarding it. Not a single one in support of her case, all outraged at an elected representative contributing the ongoing insurance crisis. Many decrying the fact that a TD feels she should have been "supervised" while using a swing, something most of us master by the age of 4. She has been condemned in the strongest of terms and rightly so. Our elected representatives have to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us in my view. Herein lies the issue.
The "rest of us" are the ones driving this compo culture. We are the ones who permit this culture to fester and grow. I have seen people being congratulated after a minor car accident in advance of a guaranteed windfall. I've seen people encouraged to get a solicitor after tripping in a shop.
"Sure you may as well for the few quid" is the justification for it. It's easy to see the appeal. How can people not be tempted by an almost guaranteed €20,000 for a minor bump on the road? How could we not have our head turned by such a windfall?
I myself have seen the temptation. Last summer I fell and dislocated my knee in a bar, spent the night in A&E and a month in a cast. I was encouraged by others to take a suit against them. Knowing the insurance market like I do, I know I would have got a sizeable payout had I pursued this. Of course, given my history, it would have been highly hypocritical of me to do such a thing. I did wonder however, had I not been so heavily involved in the insurance campaign, would I have been tempted? I'd like to think I have enough integrity that I would have accepted the fall was my own fault either way. But the lure of an extra 5,10 or 20 thousand euros is not easily resisted for many.
We all know these claims add to the problem. But when it's brought down to an individual level then it's rare we see the woods through the trees. We tend to think of ourselves and what we can gain in the here and now when these "opportunities" are presented to us. At that moment, the greater issue doesn't register with us. All we think of is the chance to pay off some debts or go on holiday. When we're presented with these outrageous figures for minor incidents that don't or didn't have any major impact on our lives. It's easy money really.
That being said, those dishing out the rewards are more to blame in my view. It's not even the size of the rewards in most cases that irks me. It's the laughable cases that are deemed deserving of them. If you've been hit by a car and end up with a broken arm or other similar injury, fair enough. In this case, you should definitely claim and if it's €20,000 or €30,000 you get then fine. However, if you slip on a floor, or fall off a swing, high awards for such a thing cannot be tolerated. We need our laws to acknowledge that accidents are sometimes just that, accidents. There is not always someone to blame.
We cannot expect that people will stop looking out for themselves. This compo culture is too far gone to expect it to sort itself out. It needs to start at the top. Award levels and frequency simply have to be reduced, there is no alternative any more. There is no silver bullet that will sort out this insurance crisis but this would be a damn good place to start.