I specialise in spinal cord injury claims – nothing else. These typically involve seven or eight figure compensation sums and involve life changing injuries.
But I have a background in personal injury litigation. I work with people who help some of the million or so people who suffer injury each year as a result of something somebody else did or did not do which negligently caused their injury and related losses. In my time I have helped countless people who have had their lives changed sometimes permanently as a result of injury on our roads, at work or in our public places.
I have seen a raft of reforms brought in ostensibly to promote access to justice and intended to make things better for all of us, but so often over recent years it seems the needs of the injured claimant is marginalised in favour of making things better for consumers, or for business.
Unfortunately until you are injured and find yourself needing some form of redress (or dare I say it ‘justice’) it is difficult to tune in to what is really involved in accessing justice because of the noise about how those seeking compensation (that is injured people) are undeserving and fuelling a compensation culture. The government’s own data simply doesn’t evidence that claim numbers are increasing. As our population increases, claim numbers are falling – and there is a significant under propensity to claim.
The Government will press on with reforms that will see an End to whiplash claims and an increase to the small claims limit in injury claims from £1000 to £5000, according to justice minister Lord Faulks speaking at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers conference this week.
In other words (after the consultation of course!) people who suffer whiplash (which form a good proportion of the 700,000 or so injury claims pursued each year - see my most recent Passle Post for government statistics) will no longer be able to recover compensation for their pain and suffering.
Also, any person claiming compensation for a sum less than £5000 will not be able to recover any of the costs they incur in pursuing the matter from the opponent who caused their loss. This in the week The Law Society Gazette headline was 'Unrepresented crowd criminal courts' in the wake of devastating cuts to legal aid.
Just around the corner we also have proposals to fix fees in clinical negligence cases and a proposal to fix fees in all litigation valued up to £250,000.
It is difficult to rationalise why there is such a hell-bent clamour to try to ban injuries (impossible surely?) and to bar access to justice to people who suffer genuine injuries. As APIL point out that is at odds with a desire to make sure people are compensated for late trains.
Is it really just about lowering insurance premiums for consumers? If it is why not just fix the premium level that can be charged? If it is about fraud isn't it a massively disproportionate response?
If it is about government savings where the State is the negligent party isn't it better to focus saving costs by looking at how injuries can be avoided in the first place? Will the consequence of injuring someone become so reduced that standards slip and more people become injured?
What about the costs that will be incurred by the State in looking after people who cannot work and need welfare support as a result of their injuries - amounts that are currently recovered as part of the compensation process?
Unfortunately the topic is an easy headline grabber where it is bound up in the compensation culture myth and very few reading popular journalism are troubled by the actual substance of what is proposed, unless and until of course they or someone close to them are injured and need help.
As incoming APIL President Neil Sugarman said this week "What I find most frustrating of all is the fact that these proposals are utterly groundless," he went on. "Government figures show us that whiplash claims are falling and a whole raft of reforms have been introduced to reduce costs and help prevent fraud. But innocent and vulnerable people are still being targeted in what has become a game of numbers rather than of the needs of individuals."
"The Government continues to give the impression that injuries which don't attract a great deal of compensation, such as whiplash injuries, are somehow 'trivial' or 'unnecessary' and that people suffering with those injuries should not be allowed damages for their pain and suffering at all. But anyone who has had such an injury knows just how painful and debilitating it can be.'
The Law Society Chief Executive Catherine Dixon is equally scathing.... Read more here...
Government plans to plough ahead with reforms to personal injury claims have been branded 'baseless' and 'frustrating' by the incoming president of a national lawyers' organisation. "The Government's apparent determination to make life harder for people with personal injury claims is both disappointing and deeply frustrating," said Neil Sugarman. "Three years ago the Government deferred a decision to force more claims through the small claims court until safeguards are in place to ensure access to justice will not be affected," said Mr Sugarman. "Today, it seems that promise has been forgotten, and people forced to bring personal injury claims in the small claims court will still either have to represent themselves or pay for their lawyers because those whose negligence has injured them won't have to pay for their costs.