Column: Roger's Soapbox

A Lie Is a Lie

By: | August 31, 2016

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

Sit down. We have to talk about lying.

The UK Supreme Court, that country’s final court of appeal, has ruled that a spot of lying is OK when submitting insurance claims. In summary, the Supremes said that one white lie don’t spoil the whole claim, girl.

The five Law Lords drew a distinction between fabricated or exaggerated insurance claims, which are fraudulent, and valid claims supported by “embellished” evidence. The Supremes overturned earlier judgments by 4-1, and held that the rule on fraudulent claims does not apply to a “collateral lie,” if the facts later show the lie to have been irrelevant.

In the case at hand, a ship’s bilge pump was left open, which incapacitated the vessel. The ship’s manager told a “reckless untruth” to the underwriters’ lawyers, to support an insurance claim.

Never mind, said their lordships, all in a day’s work. Since the loss was covered anyway, the lie didn’t matter.

Such things may not matter to the law, but they matter to real life.

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To recap, the greatest legal minds available ruled that collateral damage to the truth is fine with them, and, by extension, with the rest of us. Lie ’til you die, seems to be the ruling.

The reasonable man cannot but differ with the justices. Lying, the deliberate misstatement to mislead, especially for gain, is enormously not OK. A collateral lie is still a lie, I say, and I won’t be a party to it.

Lying, the deliberate misstatement to mislead, especially for gain, is enormously not OK.

What sort of lesson does this judgment send to the insurance fraud community?

In a historical twist, the bad guys are the ones hanging out in coffeehouses all day, while the underwriters are locked indoors, as targets for roaming gangs of liars.

Before you tell me that I made this up, you should know that I read the judgment, and watched Part 2 of the Supreme Court hearings on the web.

A little long at 104 minutes, Part 2 features, on one side, a masterful female lawyer, and on the other, an unprepossessing fellow surrounded by an oft-changing tableau of at least 15 hot babe lawyers from the “Baywatch” legal department. Now that’s my kind of law.

Watching the proceedings, you keep expecting John Cleese to burst in and start screaming quasi-legal nonsense. He never does, though.

The Sahara Desert is nothing like as dry as insurance law. It’s just as dull as you think it is, only more so. (If perchance you earn your crust in that discipline, please be aware that I have neither assets nor prospects.)

The ruling does not define a white lie, which will guarantee legal fees all round forever, but writes into law the “one-way bet”: If you’re not covered, lie. If you’re not discovered, you’re covered. If you are covered, lie, and you might still be covered.

As for the video: Parts 3 and 4 will soon be appearing at a movie theatre near you, starring Melania Trump as the chief justice. I’m lying. It’s OK. It’s the law of the land.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]