LEGAL EAGLE: Personal injury changes afoot

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I notice from the news that the government has said that it intends to change the rules about claiming for personal injury compensation. What do they have in mind?

It may be that you have read reporting of a conference of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). Lord Faulks who is a justice minister gave a speech to APIL saying that the government wants to change the law so that people cannot claim for whiplash injuries – also called “soft tissue” injuries.

He said too that the government wants to raise the small claims court limit from £1,000 to £5,000 for other injuries.

There is going to be consultation but Lord Faulks said the government is determined to press ahead with these changes. There are some problems with them though.

Whiplash injuries – often people get injured like this in car accidents but you can get a whiplash type injury to your neck for other reasons.

There is no clear definition of what a “soft tissue” whiplash injury actually is so banning claiming for them may be difficult.

But more basically – many wonder WHY such claims should be banned when other sorts of personal injury claims can still be brought –what is uniquely bad about whiplash claims?

There is widespread suspicion that in part the government wants to bring in these changes due to pressure from the car insurance company lobby.

The small claims court limit – presently for claims worth £1000 or more if you bring a claim and win your opponent must pay your lawyer for the help she gave you bringing the claim.

The government wants to change this so the figure will be £5,000. So it will become very difficult to instruct a lawyer –how would she be paid? And that means winning cases will become harder.

It will still be possible for insurance companies who are usually on the other side of cases brought to use lawyers – because insurance companies have deep pockets. Many think that for that reason and others the proposed changes are not fair.

Another point is that a limit of £5,000 will include quite serious injuries – people may not appreciate that awards of compensation in England are not generous. For example: if your arm is broken because of someone else’s negligence and you are lucky enough to make a good recovery from that quickly then the injury is quite likely to be worth not much more than £5,000. Other quite nasty injuries can be worth a lot less.

If the changes do come in they are planned for 2017.

Adrian Dalton is a specialist Personal Injury Solicitor and Partner at Ben Hoare Bell LLP.

If you have suffered a personal injury as a result of someone else’s negligence please contact one of our experienced Solicitors on 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk

Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk/service/personal_injury for more information.