Chris Wood
Monday July 13th, 2009

Insurance Ethics

I have started to read a book, “Die Methode des Gedankenexperiments” by my friend Dr. Uli Kuehne on “thought experiments” in physics. He quickly despatches the idea that these can prove facts of nature, but goes on to discuss their use in forming theories. He mentions that such methods are also used in ethics, (and so too in deriving laws).
Ethics result from evolution. We can see that many living beings have ethics; (consider ants and bees). Thinking processes, at least in humans, change the way that ethics evolve. Please vote on this and other postings, so I can decide whether I am completely wasting my time. Three cases involving myself and insurance laws and one involving fatherhood come to mind:

White Jeans

About 25 years ago, Zuzana and I had a holiday in Club Med. It was a mixed but very interesting experience. One evening another guest spilt a great deal of red wine over my white jeans. At once he said “don’t worry, my insurance will pay”. So it was. I sent a photo of the jeans after washing, where the stain still faintly showed. His insurance paid for replacement jeans. In fact, I still wore the old jeans afterwards. In a culture where new jeans are sold ready faded or worn, I had no problem. Was I justified in taking the money? I think so. The insurance company did not ask whether I could still wear the jeans. Some people would have thrown them away. I had suffered some discomfort. “Everybody does it”. Incidentally we carry more insurance than I would, because Zuzana likes to. I think for instance that legal insurance encourages a huge waste of money, by encouraging people to seek expensive solutions to problems.

Car Crash

3 or 4 years ago, a small snow plough crashed into the back of our old Golf, while daughter Caroline was driving. The repair estimate was roughly equal to the value of the Golf. The insurance company paid the difference between the car value before the crash and afterwards (€1000). This was normal, but soon afterwards, a high court decided for such cases, that the insurance must pay the full repair cost. This seems wrong to me. It can be that the cost of repair is more than the value of the car. I suppose the payment is limited to the cost of a good replacement car, but this was not clearly stated.
Anyway, I took the payment as offered, and we have driven the car without repair since then. TUV was no problem, and now we shall get the wreck-bonus. Was I justified in taking the money?
Caroline and the other three girls in the Golf got some money for their neck pains. But this was too little. The crash increases their chances of serious neck problems in years to come.

Gift

I read about a case where a man decided not to wear a garment he had bought. So he gave it to a friend. Soon afterwards, it was stolen, and the insurance paid the purchase price. Who should get the money? A professionally wise magazine writer gave his opinion that the giver should get the money. I disagree. If I had to decide between the two, I would give the money to the other. Given is given. He probably needs the money more anyway. But I would say, split the money 50-50, then both can be happy.
What if only one of them is insured? Then he has an extra claim on the money, as he has carried the cost of insurance. If the giver is the one with insurance, he may decide in retrospect that it was a loan, rather than a gift. Who thinks this is justified?

Twin Fathers

A case came up recently where a woman slept with twins and was then pregnant. It was later established that one of the twins was the father. Because it could not be established which one was the father, neither had to pay maintenance! To me this seems silly. Each should pay half. The German legal system assumes that every possible case can be thought out in advance. So parliament makes over-complicated laws, and still silly results happen. The English system leaves the court more room for common sense. If that is lacking in the first instance, one can appeal. Civil courts sometimes decide on the basis of probability. So a probable murderer has to pay damages, although the evidence is not strong enough for criminal conviction. Has this ever happened in Germany? Of course criminal cases are really also decided according to probability. Perhaps this should be more explicit, perhaps 10% less sentence for 1% less certainty? What do you think?
I read recently that the English system seems to derive partly (via the Vikings) from Arabic traditions!

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