WITH OUR local High Court sittings on in Waterford over the last two weeks I found myself spending more time than usual in my car being bombarded with advertising.
One campaign above others caught my attention, both on radio and billboards (and I have since seen it all over the internet); the one by the insurance industry showing the man with two faces who is apparently bringing a fraudulent injury claim.
The ad presents this vile-looking creature as the cause of high insurance premiums and encourages all to report any accident case that they think may be ‘suspicious’ to the “Insurance Confidential” helpline.
I have three objections to this ad.
Firstly, I think it is dangerous and wrong to incite such suspicion and jealousy in people, especially at this time of great financial hardship. The ads are encouraging an atmosphere of the ‘squinting window’, where spite or jealousy can so easily motivate an opportunity to do harm to another, encouraged by the promise of anonymity. It is not just tasteless, it is wrong.
My second objection is that the ads suggest that there is some relationship between fraudulent claims and high premiums. This is simply not the case because the incidence of fraudulent claims in Ireland is so low.
We had all this tosh after 9/11. Following those attacks, insurance premiums in Ireland began to skyrocket.
Clearly the big international insurers and underwriters had lost a lot of money as a direct consequence of the New York attacks but why that made Irish policies riskier remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it happened and over the following two years, the cost of insurance soared.
This was coupled with a big PR drive by the insurance industry. They pressed for new laws making it more difficult for injured people to get compensation and they wanted a new assessment system – The Injuries Board.
Their calls found receptive ears in the Fianna Fail of McCreevey and Ahearn ably assisted by the Progressive Democrats.
The ordinary citizen lost out while the insurance industry enjoyed increased profits.
The premiums did come down but it was never explained why they had gone up in the first place.
Once again in Ireland, government sided with ‘Big Business’ and the citizen lost out.
Back then, in 2002 and 2003, there was a similar advertising campaign – and it was very effective but it was a different time.
It was a time of rising boats, of hope and optimism and the negative, mean and socially poisonous potential of the ad was less likely to take hold.
In times of hardship, such baser temptations are much more powerful, much more dangerous.
My third objection to this ad is that it is to create an atmosphere of suspicion and jealousy and even embarrassment so that the insurance industry can make even more profits.
I know that there must be some fraudulent claims and exaggerated claims in this imperfect world. I also know however that if there was a significant problem, I would have seen it, judges would be commenting, insurance companies would have statistics to shout at us from the rooftops – but that is not the case. It is classic ‘reds under the beds’ stuff.
And while insurers are doing all this, they have no moral hesitation to do what it takes to increase their profits regardless of the harm they cause their customers.
In saying this I am thinking of two examples from just the last fortnight.
The first was a man who was badly hurt when another motorist collided into the car he was driving. Just a few days later he was door-stepped by an agent for a major international insurer, one that likes to dress itself up with respectability in its ads, and he was persuaded into signing a settlement of his injury for €5,000.
The insurance agent must have known that the man had an injury that will in all likelihood persist for a few years if not longer and I estimate that in time he should be entitled to €40,000 damages or perhaps more.
The second example of insurers behaving badly was during a High Court trial last week. The insurer, through their lawyers, accused a decent and honest plaintiff of fraud because she didn’t remember her medical history despite having given the insurer’s lawyers all her medical records for them to pore over. Nothing was held back.
They actually accused this person of a criminal act and asked the judge to throw out the case on the basis of a law that was only enacted in the wake of the 9/11 - FF/PD legal shakeup I mentioned above.
The judge seemed to take the view that the allegation was unjustified and judgment is awaited but it was a dreadful abuse of a person, without cause.
It is interesting that that the insurance industry has stopped using the radio ad that had the line about a fraudster; “when he put his hand in your pocket” in the wake of our €1.6 billion bailout of Quinn Insurance. Whose hand? Whose pocket?
Cian O’Carroll Solicitors, A Medical Negligence & Personal Injury Law Firm. Freephone 1-800 60 70 80 | www.tipplaw.com