My leg, my leg for 1.9 million kroner?

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Do you want to pay 1.9 million Danish kroner for your leg?

Some days ago I finished reading Danish defense lawyer Bent Nielsen’s book (‘Det er il’godt træls: en forsvarsadvokats dilemma) where he recounts and debates some of his cases. Among the issues he address is compensation to victims of crime. Bent Nielsen writes:

Denmark provides miserable damages on injuries.

Its ridiculous amounts when the limbs, eyesight and hearing and all our vital organs are put in compensatory money terms. And there is even talk about damage that can be measured and assessed. I once asked one of the High Court judges after being annoyed at something he had said: “A personal question, Judge, can I buy your leg for 100’000 DKK?”

As examples he recounts a case where two men raped a women with a knife. Compensation: 40’000 Danish kroner, that is around 5’000 Euros. Bent Nielsen instead suggested 500’000 kroner, — as a beginning. At around the time when Bent Nielsen’s book was published in 2002 the law was changed so the going rate now is 60-70’000 kroner per rape, – still far from Bent Nielsen ten times increase.

Normally the criminal (or the insurance company) should pay the damages. However, if the criminal cannot pay or the victim cannot get money through the insurance, then the Danish state must pay (according to the law). Maybe there’s the rub. For in that pay lies a cost for the taxpayer which apparently is around 100 million kroner for the total of Danish cases per year. (This state compensation is handled thought the Erstatningsnævnet which have further details their homepage)

But why should the Danish state pay for the wrongdoings of a criminal at all? Increase the compensation to the Bent Nielsen levels and let the criminal pay whatever he can, e.g., by working in prison. The state compensation can be (IMHO) ridiculed: Lets say a guy owes money to a gang. The gang kidnaps the man and drives him around for 6 hours in Copenhagen and the surrounding area while threatening him. The gang leaves him physically unharmed, and he seeks damages for 6 hours of kidnapping and gets 20’000 kroner from the Danish state. This is one of the cases from the Erstatningsnævnet’s annual report. Did the guy paid off his debt with the money…?

From my course in law at he Engineer College of Aarhus back in the 1990s I recall a story about a guy using a walkie talkie. He was on the wrong channel and disrupted the communication between a captain of a ship and the marine pilot with the result that the ship crashed into the quay (AFAIR). The guy with the walkie talkie got to pay huge damages. The moral of the story is that your small failures can – in very unfortunate circumstances – result in large expenses to others.

A few days ago a Danish court of appeal settled large damages for the case of the so-called “fodboldtosse” (the football fool). In 2007 during the match between Denmark and Sweden in Copenhagen the drunken fodboldtosse ran into the field and attacked the referee. The European football federation (UEFA) punished the Danish organizers so they had to put the games in smaller stadiums (which meant loos of income) and pay a fine on 281’000 kroner. The court of appeal determined the amount to be around 1.9 million kroner (approx. 240’000 Euro), which is probably fair, – as lawyers also agree. The fodboldtosse has not got that large amount of money and there are no taxpayers to help. A number of people feel pity for the drunkard and started a collection. Presently a pool on Facebook is just over 30’000 kroner, so now they only need the rest 98%.

It is telling to note that for the amount on 1.9 million the fodboldtosse could have raped 29 women and paid full damages. The remarkable discrepancy between criminal damage and the large lawsuit damage was also noted on Facebook by comedian Frank Hvam commenting on the fodboldtosse and a recent nasty criminal case where the damage (state-funded, I suppose) was settled on 150’000 kroner. The particular Facebook post has gained over 17’000 likes, over 4’000 share and over 1’000 comments.

When I was little I actually thought that you would get money from the police if a thief stole from you. Later I found out that this is not the case. If the state is supposed to cover the damages I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if the individual police districts were to pay for damages made by criminals.


(2012-02-21: spelling corrections)


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