It’s been a while now, but there was a time, at least when this writer was a toddler, when falling into thorny bushes was an occupational habit of being a small child. Today? It’s the equivalent of a decent sized win on the Lotto:

A child left with facial scars after falling into brambles while playing at her Montessori school has secured €90,000 under a settlement of her High Court action…..

….. The case arose from an incident on April 19th, 2018 in which the child, then aged three and a half, fell into brambles while playing at her school and suffered lacerations and abrasions to her face.

It was claimed the brambles were permitted to grow at the side of the play area and the child was not supervised at the time of the incident.

Let’s get the argument for the settlement out of the way first: This was a child’s playground in a childcare facility. The parents, you could say, had a right to expect that it would be made safe, and that threats to their child’s welfare would be removed. Because the Montessori failed to take away the brambles, their child now has a scar on her face that will be there for a lifetime. Ninety grand is only fair compensation.

That’s the argument, at least, and apparently the insurance company for the Montessori school were so afraid of it that they coughed up without even going into court.

But it’s nonsense, of course.

First, without getting into the arguments about who was at fault, let’s talk about proportionality. We do not know how significant these facial scars to the young girl are. But we can safely assume, given that no such injury was mentioned, that she has not been left permanently disabled. She didn’t lose the sight in one eye. We’ll assume that she has a significant, and noticeable, facial scar.

Is that worth €90,000? For what financial loss, for example, is she being compensated? Sure, she will likely never have a career as a catwalk model, but aside from that one example, a facial scar is highly unlikely to impact her earning potential later in life. It is also too high a sum to be to cover the costs of reconstructive surgery, or other medical treatment. So what, exactly, is she being compensated for?

Many of us have scars from childhood scrapes. In my own case, it’s a permanent scar on my right thumb from when my father rather carelessly closed a farm gate on my hand at the age of five or six. Getting into these kinds of scrape is part of being a child. If everyone who does starts going to court, insurance will soon be out of reach for everybody.

Now, let’s talk about liability. Is the Montessori school really liable for injuries incurred because somebody fell into a bush? What’s the limiting principle on that. Many homes around Ireland have gardens, and those gardens have rose bushes, or other thorny plants. If a child, visiting a home, falls into such a bush, is the homeowner responsible?

One of the problems with “compo culture” is the determination it has to find somebody “responsible” for everything. In the real world, accidents just sometimes happen. Things fall down. People trip. Cars skid on wet roads. Sometimes, people suffer serious injuries, and the costs of those injuries must be paid for – that’s what insurance is for. But in cases like this, the net effect of a child falling into a bush will almost certainly be an increase in insurance premiums for every Childcare facility in the country. That, in turn, means more expensive childcare for everybody, and fewer childcare facilities to begin with.

It’s unsustainable.