The young, the elderly, the mentally incapacitated, those with special physical and educational needs and those for whom English is not their first language will all be disproportionately hit by the government’s proposed reforms to personal injury claims, London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen has warned.
They will be the people least able to bring their own claims without legal assistance, which will be the result of the Ministry of Justice plans to raise the small claims limit for personal injury cases to £5,000.
This threshold captures most road traffic accident cases – but also claims over accidents at work and negligent treatment in hospitals – and means that people injured by the negligence of others will have to pursue their claims at the small claims court. Few claimants use lawyers for small claims because the ‘loser pays the costs’ doctrine does not apply there and so they have to pay any legal fees out of the damages they are awarded.
In a further effort to discourage people from bringing claims in the first place, the government is also looking at restricting or removing altogether the right to damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. This would mean that only specific losses, such as the cost of repairing the vehicle, would be recoverable.
In its response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation, submitted today, Hodge Jones & Allen says the unrepresented claimant suing over a road traffic accident will be required to: apply the laws of liability and causation to their case; obtain witness statements; buy the police report; instruct a medical expert and pay for their report; draft the claim; quantify damages; calculate past and future loss, for example for care and loss of earnings; use multipliers for future loss; make interest calculations; pay the court fee; negotiate; and attend court, ensuring witnesses attend, making submissions, and cross-examining witnesses.
The response says: “From our experience, insurers will always deny where possible and make low initial offers. As we know, their first duty is to their shareholders. These proposals will place individuals in an even more vulnerable position as they face up to organised legal teams alone.”
This will be a Herculean task for any individual – and all but impossible for vulnerable people, as well as those without computer access – and will simply lead many innocent victims of another’s negligence to abandon hope of receiving compensation for their injuries and the cost of getting better.
This will put more pressure on the NHS as well as employers, because injuries could well last longer than they would otherwise have done.
The HJA response contains several case studies which show how misconceived the proposals are and how seemingly superficial injuries can actually turn out to be far more serious – such as the soldier who was a passenger in the back of an Army Land Rover involved in a crash on a motorway. Initially it appeared to be a straightforward whiplash case, valued at less than £5,000; however, she also sustained psychological injuries and had to leave the army as a result. The case settled for £33,000.
Patrick Allen, the senior partner of Hodge Jones & Allen and one of the country’s leading PI lawyers, says: “These proposals are scandalous – taking money from innocent accident victims and giving it to insurance companies and motorists, even though they actually affect all personal injury claims, not just road traffic related.
“The government admits that insurers will receive a £200m windfall on top of any supposed reductions in motor insurance premiums. But history shows us that insurers will not pass on any savings – since the last set of reforms in 2013, premiums have gone up and so have the profits and dividends of all the major insurers.
“The proposals are based on alleged fraud and exaggeration but the government has no evidence to back this up – even the Association of British Insurers now accepts that fraud levels are as low as 0.1% of all claims.
“The system is there to keep people safe, compensate them for their losses when they are injured due to someone else’s negligence, and bring about improvements which will keep the public safer still. Reducing claims will lead to a drop in standards and more accidents.”
Notes for Editors
Hodge Jones & Allen
- Hodge Jones & Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its managing partner is Patrick Allen.
- For almost 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
- The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
- Co-founder Patrick Allen is still at the helm of the firm he co-founded in 1977.
- In 2016 the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.