Who can afford to insure against the rising risk of claims when the ambulance chasers can gallop through the stable door left open by judges, says John Jackson
The insurance industry needs more of its top people to speak out firmly and plainly after the fashion of Lloyd's chairman Lord Levene, who has hit out with a vengeance at the growing crisis over the compensation culture. He warned that the blame culture "is starting to plunder the UK economy".This growing stampede to the lawyers and the increasing army of claims-chasing companies permeates through every area of insurance. I will give just one example of this - our four-legged friend the horse.Keeping Dobbin in the backyard or at the best-run riding school has now become a high risk venture, with the odds substantially stacked against the owner of the horse or the riding school. These days the lawyers come in at the gallop, because they have been greatly assisted by a successful appeal case in the House of Lords in March last year, Mirvahedy v Henley.The case concerned a road traffic accident caused by loose horses which had escaped on to a road at night. The claimant, Mr Mirvahedy, was severely injured and sued Dr and Mrs Henley, who owned the horses. They were sued both in negligence and under the Animals Act .
AdequateIt was agreed that Dr and Mrs Henley had not been negligent in allowing their horses to escape, as their fencing was adequate. However, the judges ruled by 3-2 that negligence does not need to be proven. The defendants were found to be strictly liable under the Animals Act. This Act has been the subject of much legal debate over the years. There is much confusion over its interpretation. The defendants were found liable because, although they had carefully fenced the horses in, they escaped. And, having escaped, it was how they behaved once they were loose on the road. Mirvahedy v Henley is meat and drink to the ambulance chasers. The Lords' judgment has shattered the horsey world. The Association of British Riding Schools is particularly concerned at the problem. Their members are insured through South Essex Insurance Brokers (SEIB), which has an impressive track record over many years in serving the equine world. According to SEIB assistant anaging director Colin Baker, equine premiums have jumped 150% to 200% in the last two years. Little wonder SEIB is one of only two or three players taking this business and that underwriters are as rare to find as WMD in Iraq. Such is the curse of the compensation culture.As Mr Bumble puts it in Oliver Twist: "If the law supposes that, the law is a ass - a idiot." Not only an ass it seems, but horse manure as well.