Monday 19 August 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Up to our neck braces in insurance firm spin'

TDs should not be so casually willing to accept that their constituents are crooks and liars, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Is that it, then? A moment of truth, a viral video - a day or two of outrage and we're satisfied. Back to business as usual.

We, the "fighting Irish", are a very docile people.

If you're one of the few who hasn't seen the Pearse Doherty video, you really ought to. In just seven minutes it sums up a major aspect of what's wrong with this country, and ties a bow on it.

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Entertaining, enlightening - but that video is only part of the story. What's disturbing is the fact that for every Pearse Doherty at work, there are dozens of TDs who prefer propaganda to facts.

High insurance premiums generate huge profits; small businesses are sent to the wall, unable to afford the premiums.

The insurance companies blame the high premiums on public avarice or fraud, to deflect attention from their own greed.

Most of the politicians - whom we elect and pay to protect us - are playing for the other team.

Pearse Doherty merely asked the very simple questions the major parties and their complacent ministers refuse to ask.

Thirty years ago, I covered a High Court case in which a couple sued a hospital over a family tragedy. Decent people were damaged, and they had a strong case. The hospital and the insurance company fought ferociously, but after scrupulous attention to detail the jury awarded the couple a million pounds in damages.

The damages were based in actuarial figures; the verdict was sound.

The hospital's insurance company went to work, and their propaganda was visible in the evening papers the day after the verdict.

"Ireland May Go Tragic US Way", said the Evening Herald; "£1m Award to Hit Cost to Patients", said the Evening Press.

The vice-president of the Medical Defence Union referred to the "avarice" of people who sue for damages.

Such awards were, we were told, bad for doctors, bad for patients, bad for all of us. Whether medical, motoring, or personal injury, the insurance company propaganda hasn't changed over the decades. Often it's transmitted by well-meaning but easily misled journalists.

In between, there's no let-up in the covering fire, the propaganda, that allows the companies to get away with giant profits.

Awards are too high, we're told. They push up premiums, they put the whole system of insurance at risk.

And, too many of us are crooks.

Now, there are some crooks, we know that. We've all seen the videos, provided by insurance companies - people gently lowering themselves to the floor, as they supposedly "slip" on water they've carefully sprinkled underfoot.

Claimants are videoed hopping up Mount Everest on pogo sticks a week after they allegedly suffered life-changing injuries when they fell off an unsupervised pavement.

People eat up this kind of stuff - it provides simple answers - and the videos are great crack.

Now, wherever there's money, there's chancers. But where's the evidence of a tsunami of false claims?

Apart from insurance companies saying so, there is no such evidence. No evidence, whatever. There's evidence of vast, unsustainable profits, but no actual evidence of mass fraud. Non-stop propaganda, however, creates public beliefs - things that "everyone knows", even when they're untrue.

It's impossible to say conclusively how such propaganda affects judges - but 30 years ago, in that £1m damages award case, the hospital appealed. And two of the three Supreme Court judges who heard the case had a record of intervening to reduce awards.

The three judges ordered a retrial - on a technicality. And, as it happens, the issue on which they chose to order the retrial was conclusively killed stone dead - false and never remotely true - in evidence given to the retrial.

In the interim between the original trial and the retrial, juries were abolished in personal injury cases.

During the retrial, the couple accepted an offer of about half the original award, rather than risk some other quirky legal move that might defeat them - given the observable trend among judges.

In libel cases, the amount of damages has been to this day left to a jury. Someone says you're an eejit, the jury decides how much is needed to relieve your hurt.

Lose an arm, no jury.

When the public sees - as it did recently - that insurance company profits were up by 1,300pc in 2017, it wants an explanation.

Which is when some clown pops up and screams, "Hey, here, look at this funny video of someone who might be putting mouse droppings in her burger..."

But, where's the evidence of a tsunami of...

"No, no, over here, over here! Don't look over there at the ever-increasing profits and the massive salaries for the executives..."

The propaganda war to justify high premiums has become a permanent feature in public life, decade after decade. By and by, it has become common knowledge - sure, "everyone knows" - that about 20pc of insurance claims are fraudulent.

So, when an array of insurance company executives appeared at the Joint Committee on Expenditure and Reform, they were well prepared for anything - except the simplest of questions.

The companies get tens of thousands of claims per year, and if 20pc or 15pc - or whatever you're having yourself - are fraudulent, well, no wonder the premiums are so high.

One company gets 65,000 claims - so, if 15pc are fraudulent, that's a massive 10,000 attempts to defraud.

And Pearse Doherty asked the simple question: "How many did you report to the gardai?"

He wasn't playing fair, of course. He knew the answer. And the answer was that in a six-month period ending in March the entire insurance industry reported just 19 cases of suspected fraud.

It's quite shocking how upset and unprepared the executives were when Doherty asked that question. They explained about how proof isn't always...

But, says Doherty, you don't need proof, you don't investigate. If you suspect fraud, you report it, the guards investigate.

Again he asked: "How many?"

"I could certainly give you some examples," said one executive.

Oh, dear. They just love to show the video of those supposedly injured individuals hopping up Mount Everest, while stuffing mouse droppings in their burgers.

Doherty persisted. "How many?"

The executives couldn't say. Seems they don't know that figure. Odd, really - given that fraudulent claims are allegedly so damaging to their companies.

Doherty suggested to one executive that his company reported less than five. The man didn't know.

It's clear the statistics on fraudulent claims are daft. They're whatever the companies say they are - so disconnected from reality that the companies simply don't report what they supposedly believe are crimes.

What's the response to the startling state of affairs revealed by Doherty's questioning?

None.

The Government looks the other way. La-la-la-la, I don't hear you . . .

Most TDs don't care.

Stories based on insurance company propaganda are currently being peddled in the media. Business as usual.

It's almost as though the politicians prefer the propaganda of the insurance companies to the facts revealed at their own committee.

Meanwhile, it turns out there was a rat in the Dail bar. Wow.

Have you placed your bet on which Fine Gael TD will be first to sue the State over the post-traumatic-stress-disorder caused by this terrible news?

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