Friday 23 February 2018

'Compo culture' reduces us to a bunch of bone-picking vultures

Forget the 'no win, no fee' telly ads – let's leave compensation claiming to the genuine, needy cases, writes Nicky Larkin

Tom Vaughan Lawlor as Nidge in Love/Hate
Tom Vaughan Lawlor as Nidge in Love/Hate

Nicky Larkin

I USED to work in a crumbling old swimming pool. On the walls were signs warning patrons not to run on the wet tiled deck. Sometimes people would run anyway and would usually slip and fall. Despite these regular tumbles, in the seven years I spent witnessing people fall on that wet tiled deck, nobody ever sued the pool.

That was before so-called 'compo culture' placed its warm, fatherly grasp firmly around our throats. Before all those ads on TV, featuring reassuring-looking lawyers informing us of their handy no-win, no-fee arrangements. Urging us all to get litigious – usually for falling off ladders.

The rise of no-win, no-fee TV advertising interestingly collides with the rise of the anti-hero in our most popular TV dramas. These days we just can't get enough of fictional fellas selling crystal meth to kids, or homegrown socio-paths like Nidge running around frantically organising murder on Love/Hate.

Even though we know these anti-heroes' actions are completely immoral – even utterly evil – we're actually rooting for them to win...

Then in the ad breaks in-between cheering on stone-cold gangsters doing immoral things for money, we get pounded with stories of people making solid fortunes by falling off ladders. I'm not saying anything more about my opinions on the possible connections there, for fear I'll get sued by those reassuring-looking lawyers. On a no-win, no-fee basis.

Nevertheless, I feel I have earned the right to rebuke on this 'compo culture' issue. Exactly a year ago I got completely pasted by a car in The Netherlands, when a driver first broke a red light, then my ribs – and very nearly my skull. I was on a bicycle at the time, at half-nine in the morning.I had plenty of witnesses to what looked like an involuntary Evel Knievel tribute act gone horribly wrong. But I didn't sue anybody. I could have played it up nicely and claimed I was psychologically scarred, on top of my immediate physical injuries. That car came out of nowhere, and sent me flying through the air like Batman on a budget. I haven't gone near a bike since.

But those physical wounds healed, and my trust in the world returned, slowly but surely. If I took a few grand for my troubles from some insurance company, it would've followed me around forever – if only in my own now well-healed head.

Plus it wouldn't have speeded up my recovery in the slightest. And just like all those people who got the slap running down that wet tiled deck in the old swimming pool, I took my chances hopping up on that bike without a helmet. That driver didn't mean to hit me. Although we were in The Hague, it wasn't exactly a war-crime.

But while the case I chose not to pursue involved a very genuine accident, some cases that actually go to court these days are very genuinely surreal. A friend of mine recently had his car stolen. It surfaced a few days later – totalled in a crash the far side of the country. He then got a solicitor's letter on behalf of the car-thief, trying to sue him for injuries sustained in said crash...

Yes you did read that right. There was a similar calibre of case a few years back where a burglar fell through a skylight while trying to break into a house. He then attempted to sue the home-owner for negligence, because the kitchen table he fell down upon had kitchen knives left out on it.

But for every sky-diving cat-burglar, there's also a genuine case of someone in genuine need of compensation. Someone who's suffered traumatic injuries – physical, psychological, or both. The thousands of abuse victims up and down the country, those involved in horrific life-changing accidents. Not a soft accident like mine, where the only lasting damage a year later is a powerful fear of cycling, and the odd twinge in the ribs. And definitely not anyone who slips while running on a wet tiled deck in a swimming pool, while completely surrounded by signs pleading with them not to run.

That crumbling old swimming pool doesn't exist anymore. Now in its place is a shiny new leisure centre, packed to the rafters with health and safety. But gone with the old pool is an altogether more rational thought process, one where if you did something silly and slightly injured yourself, your immediate reaction was just embarrassment. Not righteous indignation that someone somewhere suddenly needs to be sued. That kind of attitude reduces us to a bunch of vultures, constantly on the hunt for further easy pickings.

As for all those ads for people falling off ladders, if you're happy to cheer on a sociopathic murderer, safe in the knowledge it's all a dose of harmless fiction, then you should probably apply that same filtering process to all those litigious ads on the breaks in between, before you start playing snakes and ladders.

Sunday Independent

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