Most of us don’t think much about the rules relating to claims for compensation unless we are injured and it becomes a personal concern. Perhaps this why why there has been little publicity about changes proposed by the government, which will have a big impact on whether, and how easily, victims of negligence are able to claim compensation for their injuries.
, FDC’s head of Litigation, explains that at present, if the injury you suffer means that you are likely to be entitled to £1,000 or more in compensation, you can normally get legal advice about the claim and, of you are successful, the person or organisation responsible for your injuries will have to pay your legal costs as well as the compensation you are entitled to.
The government has announced plans to raise the ‘small claim’ limit in Personal Injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000. The effect of such a change would mean that most ordinary people would be unable to get legal advice about their rights, or any help with the cost of seeking redress for injuries, as they would no longer be able to claim their legal costs back from the person responsible for injuring them. (The small claims limit in actions that do not include a claim for personal injury remains at £10,000 at present.)
Even relatively ‘minor’ injuries, such as those caused by low-speed road accidents, and trips and falls can have significant and lasting consequences, and there are serious concerns that the new rules, if implemented, may mean that many victims of negligence are unable to use their legal rights to get the compensation they are entitled to (which of course includes not only payment for pain and suffering, but also payments to cover financial losses suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence, such as loss of earnings, costs of damaged property, increased travel costs where someone is unable to drive due to an injury etc.)
Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society said “'The Law Society is gravely concerned that these proposals will completely undermine the right of ordinary citizens to receive full and proper compensation from those that have injured them through negligence”
He went on to explain that the change in the law will protect people and organisations which negligently cause injury to others from the consequences of their actions.
If victims of negligence are unable to access proper legal advice due to the higher limit for ‘minor’ cases, the effect will be that many people at a very vulnerable time in their lives, after suffering significant injuries, trying to navigate a complex and unfamiliar legal system without proper advice or support. In contract, those defending such claims will almost always have the benefit of legal advice and representation, leaving victims at an unfair disadvantage.
Jonathan Smithers again “This therefore undermines ordinary people's ability to access justice. ..Personal injury claims, even lower value claims, can include serious injuries arising from the fault of an employer or other road traffic accidents where legal rights can be very complex and the injuries caused debilitating”
It has been suggested that the changes will combat fraud, however, the reality is that fraud can better be addressed by looking at measures focussed on fraud itself, and ensuring that those found to have acted fraudulently are punished, rather than on excluding a vast number of honest victims, who have suffered genuine harm, from being able to access justice.
The government is proposing to consult on the proposals. Hopefully, people who have benefitted from the access to legal advice provided by the current rules will respond to oppose the changes, to ensure that ordinary, honest victims of negligence continue to have access to justice.
A petition opposing the proposed changs has been established and can be signed here