crypto and public policy

Russian Roulette Society

Filed under: General March 28, 2005 @ 12:20 pm

A while ago, I served on a jury in a civil case concerning a car accident. The plaintiff incurred tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses and lost wages. The defendent was found liable as he clearly caused the accident. Deliberation was quick, as there wasn’t a whole lot to discuss. But there was one issue we couldn’t rule on, one issue which truly angers me. The defendent’s fees were not picked up by her insurance, because her insurance had been cancelled, because, once she proved unable to fulfill her duties because of post-accident trauma and pain, her large-company employer fired her retroactively to the day before the accident.

As a close friend would say, “that’s messed up.” But what’s really messed up is that we have a system that regularly accepts such events as inevitabilities. 40 Million people without insurance. And out of those who do have insurance, most will not be able to use it for some weird technical reason, like being fired retroactively. As a consequence, individuals are left with the bill. Certainly, the defendent made a mistake. The mistake was that he cut a corner in a blind turn on a road he knew very well. Who can honestly say they haven’t done something like that, only they were lucky enough not to have an accident?

Should this defendent’s life be destroyed for such a mistake? Is that the kind of society we want? A Russian Roulette society, where a single mistake might cost you your life’s savings, your chance at a reasonable career, your health?

On the flipside, the plaintiff needs a solution, too. And the system isn’t getting any better: the recent bankruptcy bill will make it even harder to recover from such unlucky occurrences when the medical bills get astronomical.

What’s truly ironic is that the very crowd that encourages this Russian Roulette society is the same crowd that complains about frivolous lawsuits and makes it harder for the middle class to get insurance by reducing small business incentives to provide it. But what’s the real dynamic of a frivolous lawsuit? A person who simply cannot afford insurance because their employer doesn’t provide any assistance, on the brink of bankruptcy, overwhelmed with medical bills, gets accosted by a less-than-ethical lawyer who convinces this victim of fate to sue.

But sometimes, the only guilty party is fate, the luck of the draw. And the only way to mitigate the risks of chance is to insure people. Institute universal healthcare. Equalize the luck of the draw for everyone. Costs of insurance will go down with the bulk. Frivolous lawsuits will be less frequent.

Our society currently makes it hard to get insurance, hard to force insurance companies to pay the money they owe, hard to recover from medical bills using last-resort bankruptcy, and super easy to get sued or sue other individuals. And the Bush administration’s solution? Make lawsuits more difficult. Sounds about par for the course. Let the millions of middle-class Americans play Russian Roulette.


  1. Sa'ad F Ahmed:

    The problem lies within the realm of guaranteed business. It’s compulsory to carry Third-Party Liability for any individual on the road. Having lived in some third world countries where most people don’t have TPL nor is it compulsory. It’s amazing to see how much fewer accidents happen because the motorists practice defensive driving.

    At the point of accident, people prefer to settle in private. If one party carries comprehensive insurance, they are usually paying 4% to 5% of vehicle value and don’t face rate hikes.

    If the compulsory TPL was removed, insurance companies menus will contain coverages that ascertain to those circumstances. The current system promotes accidents and negligence.

    Can you imagine the resentment of people having to pay TPL premiums that exceed the value of the car each year. Many times they just want to get their money’s worth.

    The house that spins the wheels of Russian Roulette is the lobby of lawyers, and the lobby of insurance giants.

  2. Lisa Williams:

    Ben, I’m so glad to see that we in the US haven’t given this situation The Big Shrug. As risk increases in our society (healthcare, attempts to privatize social security, more people having more than 6 jobs in ten years than in any time in history, fewer people living near/with family) we get more of these situations and we tilt more towards a two-tier society.

    In other places I have lived around the world people look at other people’s problems and just say, Well, that’s the way it is. Or: “God will take care of them.” The funny thing about all this is that the forces of destruction are described by people pushing them as “more individual autonomy.” But if you don’t have any safety net you soon find yourself with no choices at all.

  3. Shimon Rura:

    Let me see if I get this.

    It sounds like defendant caused a car crash that injured both plaintiff and defendant. It’s not clear whether defendant had the required auto liability insurance, but if defendant did, it was not enough to cover plaintiff’s medical expenses / lost wages. Defendant’s own injuries were not covered by defendant’s health insurance, because coverage was retroactively terminated when defendant was retroactively fired.

    I have two questions:

    1. How can someone be retroactively fired?

    Let’s say you work for me for three weeks and do what I hired you to do. Can I then retroactively fire you as of day 2 and then only pay you for 2 days of work? I can’t help it that you decided to come back and work some more afterwards, but it’s ludicrous for me to pay you after I’ve fired you… duh…

    2. Doesn’t insurance law preclude this scenario?

    If insurance providers can retroactively terminate insurance upon finding out it would be used, doesn’t that undermine the entire purpose of insurance?

    Any lawyers want to explain how this is possible?

    Also, Ben, since this court case is presumably a matter of public record, who is this evil large-company employer?

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