LEGAL EAGLE: Hitting the injured where it hurts

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Most Mail readers who were awaiting the outcome of the recent government spending review were probably interested in the decision on Tax Credits.

However, what they may not have picked up on was George Osborne’s pledge to raise the small claims limit for personal injury claims from the current £1000 up to £5000, and to remove compensation for minor soft tissue injuries.

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What this means is that any person who is injured either at work, in a road traffic accident or by falling either in the street or on private premises, or however else, and sustains a “minor” injury will not be entitled to recover their legal costs of pursuing a personal injury claim.

While general damages in England are not fixed by tariff, there are guidelines which are updated annually providing ranges of appropriate compensation figures for various injuries.

Some examples of injuries which currently fall below the £5,000 threshold are soft tissue injuries and minor fractures to the hands, feet, wrist, ankles, legs and arms, together with short term psychological injuries, deafness and less significant scarring.

I am sure most people would agree that these are not “minor” injuries and in fact many people who suffer from them can be significantly incapacitated and unable to work for a period of time.

The £5,000 small claims limit threshold does not include any financial losses such as loss of earnings and applies only to the compensation for the injury itself.

This means that if you were to suffer any of the injuries set out above, were unable to work and lost earnings, you would still be classed as having a “small claim” if the proposed changes are implemented.

As an example, I recently settled a claim for a client who sprained his ankle at work.

He was unable to weight bear for the first few weeks following his injury. As he worked in construction, heavy manual labour, he was unable to work and was not paid by his employer.

He lost earnings of around £7,000. I settled his claim for a total of £10,000, meaning that approximately £3,000 of that award was compensation for his pain and suffering.

Under Mr Osborne’s proposed changes, this client would not recover any legal costs from the guilty party in pursuing his claim as it would fall below the small claims limit.

I am sure most people would consider a loss of £7,000 earnings not to be a minor matter and therefore to remove access to proper legal advice, and thus access to justice, for such claimants, is manifestly unfair.

Mr Osborne singled out whiplash injuries in his speech, once again referring to fraudulent claims, the cost of motor insurance policies and the so-called “compensation culture”.

If these changes are implemented in 2017 as is proposed, there will be a large number of injured people unable to obtain proper advice and therefore proper compensation for their injuries.

The only people to benefit will be the insurers.

The insurance industry has failed to produce any evidence to date to substantiate that any significant percentage of claims are fraudulent.

So far as the “compensation culture” is concerned, the Tories’ own minister Lord Young produced a detailed report in which he accepted that the “compensation culture” was a myth with no evidence to back it up.

It seems that this government is intent on victimising genuinely injured people and removing access to justice.

A petition has been launched in opposition to the proposals, and should you like to sign please visit the Government’s Petition website