That old charge that we Irish are generously endowed with brass necks is a myth which can finally be put to rest. In fact, the evidence is there to show that the average Irish man or woman has the most sensitive, the most delicate, the most tender windpipe known to science.
That interesting statistic comes by way of the public meeting hosted by TD Lisa Chambers last week to highlight the soaring cost of insurance, its impact on individuals and small business, and what might be done about it.
High on the agenda was the level of personal-injury claims in Ireland, most especially our old friend, the hard-to-diagnose whiplash. And Peter Boland, who heads the Insurance Reform lobby group, told the meeting that while the average amount for whiplash injury in Ireland was €18,000, the UK equivalent was less than €4,000, and in Germany, it was a mere €1,000. And when it came to Australia and Sweden, they must have necks like the proverbial jockey’s appendage, since there is no compensation at all for minor soft-tissue damage.
That nugget was just a small part of a wide-ranging discussion on why and how insurance premiums are now so high as to be unaffordable. There was much to chew on, and plenty of targets to take the blame for the rampant disease of compo culture – the legal profession, the medical profession, the unreasonable duty of care demanded from businesses, fraudulent and exaggerated claims, staged accidents, and not least, the insurance companies themselves.
And there was no shortage of anecdotal experiences. John Mulroy, President of Castlebar Chamber, told of the neighbouring publican who in spite of running a profitable, well-managed enterprise in the heart of the town, closed his doors in the face of unmeetable insurance costs.
Or the Castlebar hotel that has seen its annual public liability cover go from €100,000 in 2017 to its current mind-boggling €250,000, or €5,000 a week. One audience member, whose child had fallen in the school yard but without any ill effects, told of being approached by two medical practitioners urging him to go to court, and offering their professional help.
Every day of the week, we hear of exaggerated motor injury claims – staged accidents (inducing collisions by disconnecting brake lights seems a favourite), phantom occupants who only board the vehicle after the ‘accident’, fake witnesses to give evidence of how serious the collision has been. Aviva revealed details of one road traffic accident that involved €80 worth of damage to the car, but which resulted in €215,000, in personal injuries and legal costs when the case came to court.
Lisa Chambers highlighted the additional costs by way of wasted hospital time, Garda time, and fire services’ time in dealing with spurious claims, and she called for a Judicial Council to bring awards into line with European norms. Robert Troy, Fianna Fáil front-bench spokesperson, outlined a range of reforms to fix the broken system.
But the last word on compo culture at the meeting in the Ivy Tower came from the Westport man who told the story of his friend who had been in a minor accident, sustained a few bruises, and went about his business having taken a couple of Paracetamol.
To his bafflement, his GP called him in to tell him he was referring him to a psychiatrist. “I believe you wake up in the middle of the night, roaring in shock,” said the psychiatrist. “No such thing, don’t know what you are talking about,” says our man. “Well you need to start waking up in the middle of the night, roaring in shock, if we are going to get anything out of this case,” came the answer.