Blog: The real truth about ‘compensation culture’

Karen Kearney
Karen Kearney

Karen Kearney, partner and medical negligence solicitor at Cantillons Solicitors in Cork, writes on public discourse around so-called “compensation culture”.

There has been a lot of talk about this topic in the recent weeks. Indeed, I was invited on to talk about this topic on Today with Sean O’ Rourke on the 05th April 2017. So too was Kevin Thompson, Chief Executive of Insurance Ireland and Charlie Weston, Personal Finance Editor with the Irish Independent.

The reason the issue of a compensation culture is being discussed again is largely due to the recent Court case where a lady was awarded €20,000 for “banging” her knee in a restaurant (according to the media reports on the case).

That is a perfect case as far as the media is concerned because it grabs the public’s attention and it is something that virtually everybody will have an opinion on. However, mostly their opinion will be driven by the commentary that surrounds these cases and that commentary tends to focus on the headlines – she banged her knee in a restaurant and got €20,000 – and not really on the details of the case.

I don’t know the detail of this case but what I do know is that this woman was injured, she exercised her right to seek compensation for that injury and two respectable Judges in two different Courts, the Circuit Court and the High Court (on appeal) agreed that as a matter of justice she deserved compensation for her injury. The only thing the two Courts disagreed on was on the level of compensation that should apply and the higher Court in fact raised the initial award from €18,000 to €20,000.

The bottom line is that these two respectable Judges both listened to the evidence before them and considered the restaurant to be negligent. The media reports I have read refer to a forensic engineer report stating that there was nothing wrong with the table. Well there must have been another forensic engineer’s report, commissioned by the Plaintiff, saying otherwise.

There are outliers in every business and for that reason there are bound to be those who abuse the system, exaggerate claims, etc but in the vast majority of personal injury cases, it is simply citizens exercising their right to redress where they have been injured.

Mr. Weston on the Today with Sean O’ Rourke Show complained that Dublin City Council had to pay out €63 million as if this in some way was a badge of honour for his compensation culture argument. What a skewed way we have of thinking. Let’s say 10% of this amount is fraudulent (I don’t think that even the most ardent supporter of “compensation culture” thinks it is that high), that leaves a staggering €57 million of injury (pain, suffering and expense from paraplegia to death to minor cuts). Someone must surely be responsible for this. Someone should be held accountable and required to make sure it is not repeated. Yet, there is no mention of the wrongdoer but we blame/tar all victims as compensation culture merchants.

The research in this area is often funded by insurance companies. Take for instance AIG last November produced research where 73% of the 1,000 respondents surveyed said that they were dissatisfied with the “compensation culture” in Ireland. 4 out of 5 people in the same survey said that the government should find a solution to rising premiums. So after paying for research, AIG was able to get national coverage for the so called compensation culture and escape scot free for rising premiums, because it is the government’s fault. How many percentage points on the premium rises for motor insurance, home insurance and health insurance are due to government levies or internal readjustments being made by the insurance company to recover the billions lost by it during the economic crash?

In 2015, the Irish insurance company industry earned €1.1 billion in profit. Salaries and dividends have risen while consumers have been hit with massive premium hikes. Some might ask if there is a compensation culture amongst the highly paid executives in the insurance company.

Blog: The real truth about 'compensation culture'

  • Karen Kearney is a partner and medical negligence solicitor at Cantillons Solicitors. You can view her profile here.
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