Wednesday 29 March 2017

Compensation culture is nothing new

Documents unearthed by an Aviva archivist show that the compensation culture dates back 150 years (VisMedia)
Documents unearthed by an Aviva archivist show that the compensation culture dates back 150 years (VisMedia)

Compensation culture may be seen as a modern phenomenon, but documents going back more than 150 years show it is nothing new.

Papers recently unearthed by insurance firm Aviva reveal an amazing catalogue of customers' accident claims dating back to the 1860s.

Victorian life was full of hazards from falls over croquet hoops and vats of liquor, to bites by ferrets and fish - and much like today, where there was pain there was a claim.

Anna Stone, archivist at Aviva, formerly Norwich Union, has spent months poring over the documents for an exhibition at the insurer's headquarters in Norwich.

She said: "I have to say I do have some personal favourites from across the country that stand out for their sheer peculiarity - like the vicar who fell while playing a game of leap frog, or the gentleman who missed a dog while trying to kick it and struck a sofa instead, injuring his big toe.

"Sport injuries are also commonplace, with slips during fencing, blows from hockey sticks and golfers rupturing legs getting out of bunkers - not to mention the clerk who received £36 for an injury caused by a blow from a fellow bather's heel sustained while diving."

The records also reveal that by 1958, Sir Winston Churchill was the longest-standing customer on the company's personal accident books. But unlike many of his contemporaries, he never made claim.

The personal accident policies covered a wide range of professions and groups, from rail passengers and fox hunters to surgeons and solicitors. Discarded orange peel - not banana skins - errant horses, and general clumsiness are revealed as some of the major hazards of the day.

Some of the more bizarre claims include: a shipbuilder from Great Yarmouth who swallowed a fishbone and received a payout of £1,000 in 1901; a grocer from Lancashire slipped while playing blind man's buff and was paid £15 in 1878;a merchant from Essex received £50 in 1892 after injuring his eye while throwing rice at a wedding.

The list also included a tailor from Launceston, Cornwall, missed his chair when going to sit down and was paid £58 in 1887; and a £1,000 payout in 1878 to an innkeeper from Handsworth, Birmingham, who took poisonous potion mistaken for a sleeping medicine.

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