Injury Insurance

“N stands for Ned, Maria’s younger brother,
Who going one way, chose to look another.
In Blandford Square, a crowded part of town,
Two people on a tandem knocked him down;
Whereat a motor car, with warning shout
Ran over him, and turned him inside out.
The damages that he obtained from these
Maintained him all his life in Cultured Ease.


The Law protects you. Go your gentle way.
The Other Man has always got to pay.”

So Hilaire Belloc, in his “Cautionary Alphabet”. But “‘twas not ever thus.” Sometime in the nineteenth century, a lawsuit was brought by a gentleman severely injured by a runaway horse. His case was dismissed, on the grounds that “people making use of the public highway must accept the risks of accident there, including that of injury from runaway horses.”

It was in 1932 that the seminal case of McAllister (Donaghue) v Stevenson) was decided. A lady alleged that she had been traumatized by finding a snail in a bottle of ginger beer. The principle was established that mere carelessness, where it was foreseeable that such carelessness could cause loss or damage to another, would lead to liability for the payment of damages. So the case has become the foundation of the whole modern law of negligence (even though when it came to trial, Plaintiff failed to prove that the snail actually was there).

From this seed has grown today’s enormous industry of insurers, adjusters, expert witnesses, courts, victims and highly advertised personal injury lawyers, as well as insurance premiums costing young people as much as the car they drive, cancellation of such things as school field trips where any sort of danger could be involved, companies bankrupted by product liability claims, and a general sense that, before long, no one in society who is not already a deadbeat will ever dare doing anything involving a risk that might affect other people, for fear of being sued.

Of course, it is realistic that those affected, say, by a motor vehicle accident, get compensation from somewhere. And when one adds up the cost of lost income and nursing care required through life by, for instance, someone paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, the cost is quite rightly assessed as coming into the millions. Compensation has to come from somewhere.

So what about going back to our Victorian judgment? If we go out on the highway, we accept that this cannot be done without risk. So abolish the right to sue for damages resulting from any type of accident there. If we want to be compensated for injuries that we suffer on the highway, we place insurance on ourselves and our property, in whatever amounts we think are sufficient to cover death, disability, or property destruction. Careless drivers will face demerit points and the other punishments of the criminal law, of course, but the only insurance they will have to obtain is what they need to cover themselves.

Under such an arrangement, the insurance industry would switch from protecting people against liability, to providing for their disability. The court system would miraculously become unclogged. Our telephone books and radio waves would not be burdened with the smiling faces and pleading advertisements of ambulance chasing lawyers. Victims would get to keep the compensation they deserve, and receive it a great deal more promptly than at present, and in full.

Victims also would not need to exaggerate or continually rehash their sufferings, but would have an incentive to undergo the sort of rehabilitation already now provided by the Workers Compensation Board, and recover in the shortest time possible.

So, if you think you’re so goddarn valuable, you would pay for your own insurance yourself!

It’s time for a change—why not this one?

– Gemini, July 2003