This short article appeared in the Telegraph a few days ago ...
It shows what a litigious nation we have become that Gillian Chapman has made headlines by not suing. The 73-year-old widow says she does not want compensation from the NHS over the death of her husband, a GP who contracted cancer after working in a hospital that was built using asbestos.
Financially, it would almost certainly be worth her while: the family of a surgeon who died after working at the same hospital was awarded £1.15 million. But Mrs Chapman takes a longer view. She was “brought up in an old-fashioned way”, she says: “I don’t approve of those people who go around chasing ambulances trying to find someone to sue. I think the country is in a bad enough state without people knocking it even more.”
When the cult of compensation first spread to Britain from the US, its defenders argued that – far from being selfish or greedy – it was in fact a form of public service. The only effective way to hold institutions to account was to hit them, mercilessly, in the pocket.
Strange, then, that in the last financial year alone, the NHS paid out more than £800 million in compensation – with no obvious improvement in services. Indeed, those of us who occasionally pick our way through the crumbling, bloodstained corridors of London’s hospitals – “It’s like The English Patient in here!” an American friend marvelled recently – might suppose that the money could have been better spent on basic infrastructure.
It's a pity, really, that we don't have an un-Wanker of the Week award, because we could have awarded it to Mrs.Chapman. The woman's a true heroine.
Personally I blame the courts. People have always been greedy, and it isn't surprising that if there are damages to be had, there'll be litigants keen to have them. Much the same applies to the greedy lawyers who encourage them. Greed is a basic human instinct, sadly, and we're all prone to it.
But why judges should permit the justice system to be misused in this way is inexplicable. They have nothing to gain from huge compensation awards, and you can't kid me that they couldn't find a legal way of putting a stop to this ridiculous abuse.
And as a society we badly need to realise that accidents do happen, that people do make mistakes, and that we are all responsible for our own safety and well-being. If you trip over a paving stone that's your stupid fault for not looking where you're going. If you find a used condom or a dead mouse in your ready-meal, does that not suggest to you that you should do a little more in the kitchen than tearing the lid off and stuffing the contents down your gluttonous throat with your eyes glued to the television?
And if you smash your suspension by hitting a pot-hole in the road, should you not have been watching the road instead of ogling the blonde on the pavement, fiddling with your mobile phone, picking your nose or (worst of all) staring fixedly at your f*******ng speedometer?
Back in the fifties we really did think that asbestos was as safe as houses (and safe in houses). We were mistaken. So what? Which of us never made a mistake? In the 19th Century we were convinced that opium and its derivatives like laudanum were good for you, and had no moral qualms about fighting the Opium Wars to ensure that China would buy what we believed to be some sort of wonder-drug. In the 18th Century doctors routinely prescribed mercury for a variety of complaints. They were wrong. Perhaps we should sue the 18th and 19th Centuries for damages? Better still, let's line Tony Bliar and McGordon McBroon up and make them apologise to ... well, everyone, probably.
Not everything has to be someone's fault. Shit happens. Life is not perfect. Live with it.
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