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The compensation culture isn't so new after all

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An exhibition by Aviva has revealed that although claims for personal injury may be soaring through the roof, it’s not such a recent activity. Documents in their archives has revealed that claims for accidents can be found dating back to the 19th century, and some are a lot more absurd than others. 

In Victorian East Anglia during the 19th century, there may have been no cars to avoid on the roads, but not a day could go by where errant horses, discarded orange peels, and general clumsiness would see people putting in compensation claims.

An archivist at Aviva has spent months searching through the documents in preparation for an exhibition to be held at Aviva’s General Insurance headquarters in Norwich.

The material found has made for an interesting read, with some claims such as sporting injuries being common place, slips during fencing, golfers rupturing leg ligaments, and receiving a wallop round the head from a hockey stick just some of the claims made. At the other end of the spectrum though, absurd claims included a shipbuilder who swallowed a fishbone receiving £1000, and a farmer bit by a rat receiving £132.

The following are all examples of calamitous claims from Victorian England which are held in the archives of the Aviva offices in Norwich:

·         A merchant from Essex received £50 compensation when he injured his eye throwing rice at a wedding.

·         A corn merchant from Peterborough was driving a trap (horse and cart) when the wheel came off and he was thrown out, injuring his knee. He received £70 for his troubles in 1879.

·         An architect from Newmarket who slipped at tennis netted himself £46 and 10 shillings in 1907.

·         A farmer from Clare, in Suffolk, was involved in a “collision on the railway”. That saw a pay-out of £229 and 10 shillings in 1907.

·         A grocer from Lancashire slipped while playing blind man’s buff and received £15 in 1878.

·         A tailor from Launceston, Cornwall, missed his chair when going to sit down, and fell straight into a £58 pay-out in 1887.

·         A merchant from Glasgow injured while jumping out of bed to catch his wife who had fainted probably fainted again when he received a massive £42 in 1895.

·         An innkeeper of Handsworth, Birmingham, took poisonous potion in mistake for a sleeping medicine unbelievably survived and for his troubles received a whopping £1,000 in 1878.

A spokesman for Aviva, said, “These amazing records just go to show that as far back as 1860, people still looked to insurance to help them in their hour of need. Obviously insurance claims change as lifestyles change, but some incidents appear to be as common back then as they are today.”

Clumsiness has always been a human trait throughout history, proven by one of the records showing that a boot maker from Hampshire who injured himself slipping on soap and upsetting a saucepan.

However insurance wasn’t just for the common man. Back in 1896, Aviva, then known as Accident Insurance Ltd, acquired its most famous customer, and possibly Britain’s most well-known and loved Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. At the time, ‘The British Bulldog’ was only 21 and serving as an officer in the 4th Queens Own Hussars.

By 1958 he was the longest-standing customer on the company’s personal accident books, although records show that he never made a claim.


By Ben Malkin

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