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Blame, claim, compensation and culture

Here in the UK, The Accident Group (TAG) has just gone bust. No more red tents in the high street, nobody with a clipboard waiting to take bad-news details from passers-by, no more "Where there's blame, there's a claim," the strapline that epitomises the compensation culture that TAG is accused of having fuelled.

In an excellent pamphlet that reflects biblically on money and value, Nick Spencer observes, "compensation culture weakens morale, heightens anxiety, erodes trust and further contractualises relationships." As a specific example, he cites a 2001 poll which found that 42% of doctors had suffered a complaint or compensation claim against them in the previous three years, 71% said they practised defensive medicine (where patients may undergo a battery of tests for even the most trivial conditions simply to minimize the risk of litigation) and over 90% said they thought the compensation culture could affect the NHS's viability.

How, then, should a Christian behave in this area of making mistakes and being wronged? Big subject; here are a few observations to start the discussion.

"Eye for eye, tooth for tooth Ö" is the law of the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 21); interestingly, this was to limit restitution to no more than like for like. At the same time, Jesus, apparently speaking to the wrong-doer, said to allow the other to take more restitution than they are due (Matthew 5:38-42, Luke 6:27-36). This, and, for example Leviticus 22, suggests that we should make full restitution when we slip up while, if the other errs, asking for no more than will make amends. This is in line with the character of a God of justice and of grace. There is no place for revenge, that is God's preserve alone (Romans 12:19 quoting Leviticus 19:18), and there is no mention of 'damages'. Eyes, hands and animals are about real, income-reducing loss.

Jesus' teaching suggests that the relationship between us and our fellow humans is more important than money, and that how Christians behave should show others the nature of God. Further, he tells us to go make amends if it's our fault (Mt 5:24) and go seek to restore harmony if we believe it's the other's (Mt 18:15). Above all, "Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37): even where seeking restitution is fair, there is to be no bitterness or recrimination. That way, recompense can happen without breeding a culture that ultimately is in no-one's best interest.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

... 71% [of doctors] said they practised defensive medicine, where patients may undergo a battery of tests for even the most trivial conditions simply to minimize the risk of litigation ...

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