TO you and me it might just seem an accident.
It was wet, the woman slipped and fell into the car's path; or perhaps it
was the car which cane too fast round the corner, cutting it too close and
just brushed her down. From where I was I couldn't tell, but the important
and fortunate point was that she didn't seem too seriously hurt, probably
just bruising, or at worst a broken bone.
Luckily too, there were plenty of others around to do the necessary things
as my German would have been strained past its meagre limits.
Suddenly I realised that I was in the middle of an argument among the bystanders.
Had I seen what happened? Whose fault was it? I struggled to suggest
that I didn't know and that I didn't really think it mattered anyway, it was
just an accident.
They stopped and regarded me with the kind of look reserved for the simple-minded
and foreigners. "But", one said with a near perfect if
transatlantic accent, "Who will pay?"
Ten years ago, those of us brought up on National Health Service, free cod
liver oil, and orange juice would have found such a question totally meaningless.
Even living within the remaining shadow of the Welfare State one can ignore
it, so long as you don't mind roughing it. During my last stay in hospital
they asked me how much I thought I weighed (cheaper than scales) and didn't
get round to taking temperature and pulse (every 4 hours it said on the chart)
until they discharged me.
A nurse did once come and ask me if I had a very hairy bottom, but I regarded
that as probably prurient interest rather than treatment. Since she ran away
when I suggested we begin a comparative study on the spot, I remain unsure
on this point.
But we are in the Common Market. Having completed the great bureaucratic
performance required to obtain Form E111 granting reciprocal health rights
in the EEC, the unwary traveller may feel entitled to enjoy similar treatment
Unfortunately not, or at least only in part. It all depends on how your body
gets to less than par. Measles, typhoid, syphilis, mosquito bites or a burst
appendix and you're probably all right as this is sickness. But any kind of
accident and you're on your own. What happens in the case of suicide is anyone's
Back to the-woman lying on the ground waiting for the ambulance. If it was
her fault because she stepped out, she or her insurance must pay. If the motorist
was going too fast then his policy will cover it. If she slipped on some wet
leaves then the owner of the frontage is responsible as he didn't clear them.
The only One we mustn't blame is God; for He does not carry insurance.
All pictures and text © Peter Marshall, 1985, 1997