If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Accidents happen

A small boy is swinging on a rail in a supermarket. He falls off and bangs his head. Sadly, he dies as a result.

Now that is a very unfortunate occurrence, but it's the kind of thing that happens from time to time. It's called an accident. Small children do this kind of thing, and sometimes the consequences are serious. But these days, we need someone to blame for everything that happens. Some might say that the mother of the child, who was shopping only a few feet away, should have kept him under better control, and is to blame for his death. I don't think that is necessarily true. Possibly the child was acting in a dangerous way and she should have stopped him. Possibly he was just fooling around like kids do, and she turned away for a few seconds. We don't know.

But the parents are taking legal action against the supermarket. Quite how they think the supermarket is to blame I don't know. No doubt there is a no-win-no-fee lawyer somewhere who has told them that they could make a few grand out of this. Those who know me will know that I work in this field - at the receiving end. I work for a large travel and tourism company, and we have thousands of members of the public on our premises throughout the year. With depressing regularity, I receive letters from solicitors claiming that their clients have hurt themselves while on the premises and therefore are due huge amounts of compo. Even falling over a piece of gravel has been presented as the result of a huge, careless corporation toying with the health and well-being of poor, helpless victims. It's a farce.

I doubt if the action will be successful. All the supermarket has to do is to demonstrate that the railing was properly installed and not faulty at the time of the accident, and that there was no hidden danger that the parents could not have foreseen. What I find distressing is that we seem to be turning into a nation of infants. If anything goes wrong, someone else must be to blame. The rather adult concept of taking responsibility for your own actions (and your children's) seems to have vaporised.

The family and the solicitor representing them are from Liverpool, a city that seems to have raised victimhood to an art form. The solicitor has said "This is a working class neighbourhood with lots of children. We say that parents should be able to go shopping with their children in a safe environment." If a simple metal rail constitutes an unsafe environment, I would love to know how he would design a shop to be safe.


  1. I see the comments posted with the original article reflect similar sentiments, and can only agree.

    Not all of my contemporaries lived past their teenage years. Some fell victim to self-inflicted Darwinism, some to mischance and some to genuinely-attributable third-party fault. That, as they say, is life. Tragic early ends, all of them, but only a minority could be considered eligible for compensation. Assuming, that is, the concept of compensation sits comfortably within the situation.

    In a parallel of Churchill's famous putdown (Madam, we have established what you are, now we're haggling over price) - what exactly is "compensation" achieving? If I kill your child and pay you £100 000, is that alright? Would you accept £20 000, then? What about £3.50? Regardless of the amount, what does it achieve - will your blood money and the things it buys assuage your grief?

    I have some sympathy for compensation in certain circumstances, where a genuine victim survives but requires specialist care afterwards. Otherwise - will these people be explaining to their daughters that cashing in on their brother's death is why they're all on holiday in Disneyland right now?

    It might even be acceptable if their campaign was for improved safety (although I also believe that listening to such people only guarantees hearing a complete lack of objectivity) rather than personal gain. As with cases brought against the NHS, for example, I would love to hear a family say something like: "What happened to us was so terrible, we're going to raise money to ensure the right equipment/training is in place to stop it happening again and any compensation payment we may receive will go towards this noble cause".

    It is perhaps unfair to pass judgement without knowing the full facts, but I bet they're asking for a cash handout, not for softer tarmac , or childproof railings...

  2. I suppose it all comes back to the idea of compensation for 'hurt feelings'. I can go with the idea of compensating someone if your actions have consigned them to a life of expensive medical care, but if a child dies, where is the financial loss? We are compensating them purely for their grief which, as you ably point out, is priceless, and any attempt to quantify it is both 100% too much and utterly inadequate at the same time.

    Your last remark is spot-on.


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