The Government has rushed through a consultation to completely change the personal injury sector. The Government’s stated intention for these changes is to reduce fraudulent road traffic claims.
As lawyers, we fully support any attempt to reduce fraud but what is being proposed goes far beyond that. The Government proposals may affect everyone who has a claim for personal injuries of £5,000 or less.
One such proposal is to raise the small claims limit to £5,000 which would prevent Claimants from recovering legal costs. This means many Claimants would not be able to afford legal representation to pursue their claims for personal injury.
Claimants would have to deal direct with Insurance companies who employ experienced, specialist claims handlers. Who could be blamed for not wanting to take on an insurance company on their own?
By way of example my client recently had a tripping accident on a pavement where she fell and cut her face requiring stitches to her lip. The claim is likely to be under £5,000. If the Government proposals go through I would not be able to recover any legal costs for her and if she needed legal representation I would have to charge her. These cases are actually quite complex. Local Authorities rely on systems of inspection and it needs some understanding of inspection documents to work out if there has been a failure to properly maintain the pavement. This would not be easy for a client who had no idea of the law.
There is a real risk that the Government’s proposal would completely undermine the right of many people to receive the full and proper compensation they deserve.
Complications can arise.
Colin came to me from another solicitor. He had been offered £5,000 for a knee injury. He had undergone two years of constant and debilitating pain. His job was affected and he lost earnings. The Defendants experts thought he was malingering and exaggerating. We took expert advice from a knee specialist and Colin finally received the treatment he needed. The injury resolved. Colin was delighted as he was no longer in pain and the claim settled for £65,000 to include his loss of earnings, care and the loss of a job opportunity.
If the Government has its way there is a real risk such claims will go without proper legal advice as clients may not understand the medical issues, the complex loss of earnings and care claims they are entitled to.