Mum, media luvvies over-react after boy, 12, not hit by car

Mum asked to pay up after son, 12, hit by car’ was New Zealand’s weightiest story yesterday, the headline screaming out from the front page of the NZ Herald.

It wasn’t the biggest news du jour, of course – but it was the story with the potentially juiciest headline and the one which would sell the most papers.

Which would be legit if the headline was accurate. How the NZ Herald chooses to position itself on the sliding scale between The Economist and The Daily Tattle is entirely up to it.

But it wasn’t accurate. I started reading the piece, fully prepared to be outraged by the crassness of the insurance company who had sent the mother a bill while she was preparing to bury the mangled corpse of her son.

But, lo! “The car did not knock Mike off his feet, but its tyre left a black mark and bruising on his knee.”

“My boy also hit his chin on the top of the car and bit his tongue. He was quite shaken up about the whole event,” the paper quotes his Mum as saying.

I’m sure it was a scary happening in the little guy’s life. But, reading on, it does appear he was at fault.

“He usually crosses at the top of Loloma Drive but on the day he was hit he was down the road a few metres and crossed from between two cars.”

The mother even admits that she had accepted that her son had caused the accident.

“She contacted the police, who said that because Mike crossed the road in the wrong place he caused the collision.”

” ‘That was fine, I accepted that.’ ”

The thought that NZI should deviate from standard industry policy in this particular case smacks of tofu PR – that bland, tasteless, spineless, path-of-least-resistance version of what we do.

So, by now, now I’m starting to get a little irritated that I’ve just wasted the first half-dozen gulps of my early-morning coffee on this rubbish.

The little bugger did a stupid thing and walked away with a bruised knee. He was exceptionally lucky that the skill and quick reactions of the driver prevented a way more gruesome outcome.  And his mother accepts that he caused the collision. So what’s the story?

Some commentary has since emerged on social media that it was a bad look for the insurance company, NZI, to seek to recover damages from the Mum. That it was damaging to the NZI brand.

I beg to differ. Mainly because I believe most reasonable people reading the story would react in exactly the same way as I. The boy caused the accident. And he emerged relatively unscathed. That’s the way it works, isn’t it? If you cause damage you, or your insurer, are liable for the costs of that damage.

As my wife said: had the same thing happened to our little boy our reaction – after getting over the shock and savouring the relief that our little treasure had not been more badly injured, or worse – would be to apologise profusely to the driver and offer to make good any damage.

So, where’s the brand damage to NZI on seeking to recover costs?

Or are we now saying that children who cause damage are exempt from the principle of reparation? Or maybe that just lucky children should be exempt? If so, what is the cut-off age for this exemption? And why that particular age?

And who is going to pick up the tab for this generosity of spirit? I bet Mike’s Mummy won’t be inviting insurance companies to levy the parents of these lucky exemptees with the additional premiums that such a change in policy will inevitably require.

The thought that NZI should deviate from standard industry policy in this particular case smacks of tofu PR – that bland, tasteless, spineless, path-of-least-resistance version of what we do. If NZI, or any other insurer, chooses to waive cost recovery it should be because it’s the right thing to do. Not as a knee-jerk reaction to some engineered, over-emotive and cynically commercial headline-writing. Or because of the possibility of such.

For instance, the NZ Herald today covers a similar story that emerged following the publication of yesterday’s piece. In this case it appears that dropping the cost recovery process does appear to be the right thing to do. And, to the credit of the company involved, AA Insurance, that appears to be what it plans to do.

But not, it would seem, before the story ran in the paper. So no doubt that’s the line the NZ Herald editorial team will take to justify the appallingly cynical sales job it did with yesterday’s headline and front-page story selection.

This being the case, can we look forward to more bulls**t stories hitting our front pages as bait for the next day’s copy?

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