Darwin award, or financial reward?

I wrote recently about insurance, and how it is frequently unhelpful, and in effect, another way of squeezing money from the general population to rich investors. Car insurance is arbitrarily high, largely because it is (rightly) mandatory. Health insurance is extremely expensive, but also a necessity for many, as out national health service is, deliberately, a shambles. Small businesses find the spiraling insurance costs crippling. And much of this due to litigious claims. Some claims are genuine of course, but today I’m writing about the frivolous ones.

I had been planning on writing about this for some time, and the case last week of the woman who was awarded €550,000 after a High Court ruling on an ‘accident’ she had had when she was 13. In summary, she did something idiotic and dangerous, which resulted in a brain injury. Do I have any sympathy? No. But don’t get me wrong, I have done plenty of stupid shit in my life, sometimes resulting in minor injury. Some of the stuff I did could have resulted in major injury, or worse. Actually, I probably had more sense when I was 13 than I did for a lot of my 20s. So, can I empathise? Yes. But if I had fallen on my head doing something reckless, would I expect somebody to give me half a million for it? No. And there is the difference.

Ireland is a nation of avarice. So many people look for opportunities to take advantage of others. Our housing and rental markets are perfect examples of that. We have also become a society in which many are quick to look to sue for minor issues, because they know that there is a good chance that they will receive a disproportionately high sum, either in an out-of-court settlement, or as a result of a judge’s ruling. You may have also heard of the case last year, where a woman sought and was awarded €40,000 for having to receive 7 stitches in her knee. Happily, this case was overturned, but many such cases are successful. People have a minor accident, often completely their own fault, and see euro signs. Greedy fucks.

So, insurance keeps going up, and prices in general follow. The Luas fares are going up in December. I know this was a decision by the National Transport Authority, and not as a result of the first case mentioned above. However, how much does insurance and possible litigation factor into the decisions on pricing? We all end up paying for these idiots to get their bonanza.

This all also contributes to the wastefulness of our society. I use my own cup now if I order takeaway coffee, but I can recall buying coffee before in a disposable cup, and asking them not to put a lid on it (pointless, waste of plastic), and being told that because of ‘health and safety’ they had to put the plastic lid on. Which I removed and handed back to them, to see them throw it in the bin. Nonsense. There is nothing under the Safety, Health, and Welfare Act regarding takeaway coffee cups. ‘Health and Safety’ is one of those red-mist-inducing, empty, fatuous phrases that people trot out when they don’t have a real answer.

Businesses in particular live in fear of something tripping over their own feet on the premises and threatening legal action. I recall an experience I had in a pub in Galway, sometime around ten years ago. I had been on my way to a lunch engagement, and as I was early I popped into a nearby pub first to watch a bit of a football match, and have a cup of coffee. While I was there, a light fixture fell from the ceiling, and smashed on the ground about a metre to the right of where I was sitting. I thought nothing of it. It had obviously not been installed properly, and had eventually come loose. I continued watching the match and sipping my coffee, as the bar manager rushed over. He had a look of terror in his eyes, as he repeatedly asked if I was all right. (“I’m fine, I’m trying to watch the match….”) He offered me a free lunch. I declined, as I had other plans. I could tell that he was panicking about the potential of me going to my solicitor. I suppose I could have claimed that the incident had given me a fright, and that I was traumatised afterwards. “Please give me several thousand for me troubles”. But I am not of that mentality.

This is one example of an incident where if I were a money-hungry parasite like so many others, I could have sued. I can think of many others, and I’m sure you can too. Maybe if I didn’t have a conscience I’d be a very wealthy man by now. I’d rather not sell out though. So I’ll carry on being one of those mugs that ends up paying for arsehole claimants, the greedy and the moronic. There’s a fine line between massive settlements and the Darwin Awards.

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