The compensation culture issue should be clear-cut shouldn’t it? Those forcing businesses and insurance companies to pay out under public liability insurance policies are bad, while those forced to pay out are victims of a society gone mad. Politicians and the Media love the phrase “Compensation Culture”; it allows them to grab the moral high ground and our attention. I don’t know, people today! What’s the world coming to? Insert your own platitude here.
An Eye for Eye – Do you have a Cash Alternative?
The British legal system has a long and very proud history. It’s almost entirely based on an ancient concept of ‘compensation’. It was only after the introduction of widespread Christianity to this particular island nation that the idea of punishment for crime was introduced. The concept of an “eye for an eye” may seem on the surface satisfying, but peal back a few hundred years to the traditional Anglo-Saxon system of “Weregeld” and you have not so much a proto-compensation culture but a full-blown one.
How much is that Peasant in the Window?
In the Anglo-Saxon world, which was no fiddly-diddly-maypole-dancing golden age, crime and punishment were not natural bedfellows. Crime and Compensation was the order of the day. In the rampantly commercial world of our forebears everything had its price. Chickens, sheep, goats, corn, arms, legs, eyes, people. The commercial value of a person depended on a number of factors. Peasants were ten a penny while Kings were extremely expensive (nothing new there then). In some Anglo-Saxon cultures men were worth twice the value of women while in others the reverse was true. Different “rates” were applied to all levels of society, depending on the value placed on their place within it.
Are we still commodities?
The compensation culture of the dark ages made a lot of sense. Hanging someone for killing the major wage earner in a house doesn’t really help the victim or his family. Weregeld, on the other hand, should certainly keep the wolf from the door until a new husband could be sourced. But that was then and this is now; does the concept of compensation stand up in the bright light of the shiny twenty-first century? Well, it doesn’t seem to have gone away, which suggests it’s as popular as ever with the British. Perhaps we should put serious crimes like murder to one side here, though I’d still argue a case for compensation for victim’s families is relevant. However, when it comes to loss or injury that affects an individual, through no fault of their own, then it still works for me.
But the world’s gone mad
Not really. There are a number of elements to compensation culture. You can make a claim but a level of fault has to be established. Ultimately the judicial system is designed to help establish where fault lies, if any. In one recent case compensation was refused to the family of a boy who was killed when a branch fell from a tree at a National Trust property. The case was, of course, tragic but the ruling found that there is no such thing as a “completely safe” tree and there was therefore no element of negligence in the case. Although an unpleasant example it’s a good illustration of the fact that the ‘compensation culture’ is moderated by the judiciary; which is exactly how it should be.
Business as usual
There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we live in a compensation culture. However, there should be no doubt that we have always done so and this is no representation of a deterioration of our national character. Businesses operating with the public need to ensure that they are adequately covered by public liability insurance in order to cover themselves in the event of a successful prosecution. While the politicians and the media frequently rant about the compensation culture, it appears to be rather deeply rooted in our national mentality. While the politicians rant on, as ever, pragmatic British businesses simply see it all as business as usual.
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Compensation culture has been with us for rather longer than some would like to think. Public Liability Insurance can protect businesses against compensation claims which have been part of British culture for hundreds of years.