Compensation Culture’ over Time: The Most Bizarre Personal Injury Claims in British History

Recently there have been comments from the government to the effect that Britain is becoming a ‘compensation culture’. Increasingly, people are worried that more and more petty and bogus claims are succeeding through the system. This was blamed on referral fees and the no-win, no-fee system by Justice Minister Jonathon Djanogly. However, following a report from Aviva that brought to light some of the more bizarre claims that have been made and more worryingly succeeded, throughout the years, it would seem this is far from a new problem!

Aviva looked back at claims made from the 1860s onwards and have unearthed some very creative tales that earning very healthy sums for those seeking compensation.

 Historical Chancers

In 1904 a salesman in Belfast was awarded £7 – that’s £401 in today’s money – after banging his head on a pole while trying to get a look at another accident from the tram he was travelling on.

In Essex in 1892, a merchant who had hurt his eye when flinging rice after a wedding was awarded a very generous sum of £50, worth the modern equivalent of £2994.
However, even feebler was the claim by a Swansea artist who in 1886 successfully claimed £30 (worth £1796) after being blown down by the wind. Or the Glasgow merchant who in 1895 was awarded £42 (now £2575) after injuring himself when leaping out of bed to grab his fainting wife.

Although these claims quite clearly belong in the category of ‘frivolous’ personal injury compensation claims, they cannot compare with two claims made in 1878 and 1900 respectively in terms of the pay-outs that followed.

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The first was the claim of a Birmingham innkeeper who successfully poisoned himself after mistaking a bottle of a poisonous potion for a sleeping medication. He was awarded £1000, which has the shocking modern value of £48,310. This pales in comparison with the other case, however, in which a shipbuilder from Great Yarmouth suffered the trauma of having swallowed a fish bone and was also compensated with £1000, in this case worth £57,000 in today’s money.

Although these cases do highlight the possibly overzealous generosity of the courts at those times, at least it is clear that there was some degree of injury, if only slight and there is the possibility that someone else was at fault for it. However, in the final example, also taken from 1878, the claimant takes ‘own fault’ to a much higher level. He was a grocer in the Lancashire area when he was awarded £15 (worth £724 now) for an injury sustained, not through anyone else’s fault, but when he slipped and fell while playing blind man’s bluff!

Claims Today

Although the system now does have its share of faults and of bizarre claims making their way through the cracks, it is probably fair to say that we use a slightly stricter threshold for claims than we have in the past. It seems from reading this list of odd historical actions that the only thing missing is the cartoon slip on a banana skin. But rest assured, it did make at least one fruitful appearance in 1904.

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