Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Claims Very Direct

Is the notion of personal injury compensation a new one? What about the criminal fringes - are false claims, exaggerated claims, indeed pretty much any claims recent inventions?

In short, the answer is 'no'. Forget notions of our forebears stiffening their upper lips and soldiering on uncomplainingly as injuries ruined health and livelihood: the Victorians were quite familiar with compensation claims. Indeed, some of them made a less-than-honest career as claimants. 

In 1895, James Price collected multiple payments for personal injuries. He was at an advantage compared to the modern dishonest claimant, since many of his victims seem to have been willing to hand over cash without recourse to insurance or the need for legal action. That made deception somewhat easier: there was no risk of a single insurer noticing duplicate claims, or of a court report alerting another defendant. When he did actually take a case to court, it proved his undoing. 

On 1 February 1895, Price called upon the American Wringer Company in Southwark Street to complain that he had fallen heavily over their coal-cover, broken his arm, and been incapacitated from working. He requested £2, but the manager settled the matter by paying him 30 shillings. Although Price's arm was in a sling, he showed no signs of more recent injury.

That same day, there was a gas explosion on Southwark Bridge. The next day, Price went over to have a look at the scene and decided to pretend that he had been injured in the blast. A few days later, he went to the offices of the Metropolitan Gas Company who were responsible for the  bridge explosion. Unlike the American Wringer Company, however, they initially gave him short shrift: their own dispute with the Electric Light Company meant they couldn't entertain his claim. That must have been especially galling for Price as he had brought a 'witness' with him. 

Nonetheless, he let matters lie for a little while and made similar claims elsewhere. At the beginning of April, the French Asphalte Company paid him £2 compensation for injuries sustained tripping in a hole; they had allegedly prevented him working for a month. 

Price then made his great error: in May, he brought legal proceedings against the gas company in Lambeth County Court. His original confederate had got cold feet and wouldn't attend, but Price had a statement from another 'witness' who had signed it while drunk and without reading it. (In fact, this witness had been collecting his own compensation payment from the Commissioners of Sewers at the time of the explosion!) Price won the case and was awarded £12. He also found himself in the Old Bailey the following year, charged with perjury. 

With his former 'witnesses' and victims all giving evidence against him, and others confirming that he was not seen on the bridge at the time of the explosion, Price was convicted. The police officer in the case then added further damaging information: Price allegedly belonged to a gang who made a living from bogus injuries. They had obtained over £1,000 in the City alone in the previous four years. He was imprisoned for three years. 



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