Recently, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice announced: ‘Rioters have compensated all damages in Haren’. Haren, a wealthy municipality in the Netherlands, was the scenery of riots after what was supposed to be a Project X party in September 2012. A supermarket was looted, lampposts and road signs damaged, gardens destroyed and the police were bombarded with projectiles. To help the victims seek redress a new damage fund was created, that has now been settled.
The new fund had to be filled by the rioters. The criminal court ruled that most rioters were to make a contribution: adults € 500 and minors € 250. Conditions for compensation from the fund are simple; the victim makes a plausible claim that they suffered damage from the incident and that the damage would not be compensated by either the offender or the victim’s damage insurance.
In general, difficulties arise when a victim of riots seeks redress under tort law. In the case of public violence it is difficult to connect a specific offender to a specific damage, for instance to the damage in a garden, as is required for an unlawful act. The causal link is missing. In order to get rid of this problem, group liability could be beneficial (art. 6:166 Dutch Civil Code). This liability entails that if a person, when belonging to a group of people, causes damage through a tortious act and the risk that this damage could be inflicted should already have refrained the other persons, belonging to that group, from their collective behaviour, then each of the members of this group is jointly and severally liable as far as this collective behaviour can be attributed to him individually. Still, someone has to be linked to a group of plunderers at a special scene and time. In large-scale riots this remains a barrier to compensation.
The fund, however, contained a number of restrictions. It merely seeked to redress property damages to persons or sole proprietorships. The policemen that were harassed in Haren therefore could not claim compensation, nor could larger companies, or the municipality. Furthermore, it has taken a long time, one and a half years, for the fund to make the final payment to the victims. In addition, as rioters cannot be forced to pay the money, it was uncertain that the fund would pay out. Finally, if the total sum of damages exceeded the available funds, all victims would get an equal share from the fund instead of a more just pro rata approach.
The settlement of the fund has taken place. Contrary to the claim by the Ministry, rioters have not compensated all damages. The fund has benefitted – as was to be expected from the limited scope of the scheme – only eighteen victims of the riots for a total compensation of € 17,145 (by the way, their claim coincidentally falls together with the total amount of money collected). The estimated total damage of one million euro by far exceeds this amount, not to mention the administrative cost of the fund. Probably more victims could have made a claim, but did not take the trouble to apply given the uncertain and lengthy procedure of the fund. One has to conclude that the damage fund does not call for a celebration.