Column: Roger's Soapbox

A Frightening Fish Story

By: | May 1, 2014

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

Friends who know I write about insurance mock me. How dull, they say, secure in their assumption that the insurance industry is an unexciting place. How utterly wrong they are. Those who report on the risk markets are routinely rewarded with the best stories. Kim Kardashian, for example, has insured her bottom for $21 million. It apparently plays a big part in her career, and were she to lose it, she’d be up the creek, as it were, without a bottom.

Speaking of insured body parts, Mariah Carey’s legs are reportedly insured for $1 billion. Did I mention she’s a singer?

The finest news headline ever written is generally considered to relate to the story of the coronation of one of the European kings in the mid-1930s. Noting the attendance of almost every crowned head in the world, the ink-stained wretch of a journalist titled the story “All the Kings But Kong.”

A far better headline has presented itself recently, this one from the insurance world. It read: “Lawsuit: Man Choked on Live Fish at Haunted House.”

What terms might apply on a policy that pays out when you choke on a live fish in a haunted house? Or anywhere else, for that matter? How would you prove a house was haunted? How would the premium be calculated? On the fly, probably.

It seems a fellow paid $15 to compete in a curious contest at a place called Frightmare Manor in Davidson County, Tenn., in October 2013. The contest required entrants to eat two live bluegill fish.

Google the bluegill and you’ll see a flattish fish, some of them bigger than a man’s hand. The spikes on their dorsal fins are as sharp as a fin gets.

Frightmare Manor, the fellow’s suit alleged, failed to remove the dorsal fin from the fish, which caused him no small amount of distress when he tried swallowing it during the contest.

The emergency services were called and the fish ingester was hospitalized for four days, “including two nights in the intensive care unit,” his lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit charged the management of Frightmare Manor with negligence, liability, emotional distress and fraud. The contestant asks for $150,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages.

Stranger-than-fiction details aside, a chap nearly choking to death is a serious matter. What the judge must decide, apart from whether to seek employment in a more serious environment, is contributory risk. To what extent did this would-be fish-swallower bring his troubles upon himself?

(Full disclosure: I have experience in this field. Just before I stopped being a teenager, I ate a Dover sole and my glands went on the fritz. Seems I’m allergic to seafood. It didn’t cross my mind to sue the restaurant because I didn’t know I was allergic at the time, and nor did they. Since then, I have had an arrangement with everything in the sea: I won’t eat it, if it won’t eat me. It’s worked pretty well.)

This guy paid good money to do a dangerous thing. With or without spiked fins, swallowing whole fish is a job best left to pelicans.

Just the phrase “whole fish” suggests bones and gills and Gawd only knows what. No sane man or woman would or should undertake such ridiculous behavior.

The Latin word for “to swallow” is absorbeo. This, surely, would be a case of caveat absorbeor, let the swallower beware.

And people say insurance is dull.

Read more of the award-winning, irascible Mr. Crombie here.

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