A ‘compensation culture’?
Sir, – There is much discussion at the moment about soaring public liability insurance costs and the possibility that it is caused at least in part by the so-called “compo culture”. It seems to me that both the crux of the problem and the solution lies in the definition of negligence.
There are jurisdictions that do not have a “compo culture” problem and what they have in common is a judicial system that takes the view that people should take reasonable care as they go about their daily activities and, if they should suffer an injury in circumstances where a reasonably competent and reasonably careful person would not, it is not someone else’s fault and they are not entitled to be compensated. This may be due to judicial culture and precedent or it may be because there is a legal definition of negligence that compels this view.
When someone suffers an injury it is always a possibility that the injury would not have happened if someone else had taken preventative action, however extraordinary that action might have been.
If the restaurant had put up a notice that the coffee was hot the customer might not have poured it over themselves.
We can never have absolute confidence that the property owner could not have taken some action that would have prevented the injury, and that appears to have become the legal test in at least some Irish personal injury cases.
An essential plank in the solution to Ireland’s “compo culture” problem is for the legislature to redefine negligence in a way that will give business owners and insurers the expectation of a successful court outcome when they face unreasonable and spurious claims. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Is it time to implement serious reform of our compensation culture?
Rather than engaging with details of the ridiculous compensation case currently in the media, I would express my frustration at ever-increasing insurance costs along with increasing restrictions in our lives in the broad sense, due to providers’ fear of being sued under “health and safety” regulations or the imagined equivalent.
My concern is that we are being corralled into a world which feels entitled to a guaranteed safe and undisturbed life, with avoidance of even minimal risk from ordinary activities – such as children running in school playgrounds – a world where the prevailing attitude, in a metaphorical sense, cautions us: “Don’t walk off the path”.
Many decades ago I fell in a gymnastic class and broke my wrist using a vaulting horse; the thought of suing either the teacher or the venue administrator never entered my head. I considered the accident was my own fault due to being silly in doing extra after the end of class when I was tired. I have spoken recently about this to some friends who have had similar mishaps.
Suing others in past years was hardly ever a consideration. If equipment is faulty, if the ropes on a swing break, that is a different case.
Are we living in a culture where we expect others to cocoon us from even thinking about any kind of risk? Where we are constantly told that if you heat a product it might burn you? If you walk on a mountain you might twist your ankle?
In other words, to be treated like an immature and mindless adolescent.
In our current social context, if we suffer some mishap, rather than looking at our own part in the event and taking some responsibility, do we prefer to find someone to blame and make them carry the cost of rescuing us from our own mistakes, or from the ordinary contingencies of life? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The legal profession in Ireland survives because of compensation claims. Thousands of lawyers are employed, they employ further thousands of legal assistants and they pay income tax, PRSI, rates, etc. Lawyers are well represented among the politicians in the Dáil and Seanad.
It is not in the Government’s interest to eliminate the compensation culture, so I suspect that it is here to stay. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Whether there is a “compo culture” or not, I would dearly love to see more potential litigants stop and consider the words of that old Blues standard, “It ain’t nobody’s fault but mine”. But that might be asking too much. – Yours, etc,