Monday, 19 January 2015

Stewarts Law: overcoming the myth of a widespread compensation culture

In our first three blog posts, below, we have discussed how we established the facts to build a claim for our spinal cord injury clients and support their lifelong care needs. However, many cases do not reach this stage.

A lot has been written about the rise of the ‘compensation culture’ that is facilitated by ‘no win, no fee’ agreements, which give more people access to the legal system. It is important to realise that such agreements provide the seriously injured with greater opportunities to seek compensation for wrongful harm.

There is a distorted perception that anyone who has suffered a personal injury can seek compensatory damages, when in fact, there needs to be someone at fault. Insurance is already in place to address such occurrences, whether it is an accident in the home, on the road or at work.

A potentially bigger social problem is that valid claims are not brought in the first place. Legitimate claims that are not pursued result in a cost to society, because they then require state funding of care.

The statutory level of care will be less than the level agreed to, and funded, as a result of an insurance claim because experts are often enlisted to assess the short and long term needs of the individual. There are often drastic differences in the calculation of the level of care required. A shrinking state in light of the current economic landscape puts extra pressure on the hours of care available at statutory level and therefore should be a last recourse for victims of accidents.

There may be a number of reasons why people do not bring a claim. One of the more common reasons we have experienced as specialists in personal injury claims is the hesitance some feel about bringing a claim against another family member or their employer. Claims may raise difficult issues those who feel reluctance to claim against someone who they are loyal or close to. We see this often with family members and members of the armed forces.

However, insurance is in place precisely for circumstances where the fault of anyone, a close friend, family member or employer, has led to serious injury. It is critical to realise the social importance of insurance claims where there is a viable claim to prevent people having to fund their loved ones’ own care. The risk should also be considered in monetary terms, where any concerns over someone’s no claims bonus, worth a few hundred pounds, needs to be weighed against a likely seven figure pay-out that can sustain the lifelong care required.

The story of the young and ambitious Issy demonstrates the need to face up to the reality of why insurance is in place. She was awarded damages which enabled her to fulfil her ambitions of travelling and going to university.

Issy was left paralysed from the neck down following a car crash when she was nine in July 2005. A car driven by her mother, Jennie Sale, veered across the Horning Road in Hoveton near Ludham, Norfolk, into the path of an oncoming van. Although she was sitting in the back with her seatbelt on, she sustained severe damage to her spinal cord, resulting in complete tetraplegia. Issy Sale, 17 at the time of judgment, will be dependent on a ventilator for the rest of her life and uses a chin-controlled electric wheelchair.

Issy and her family accepted the necessity of claiming on the insurance of a family member. The settlement provided for a lump sum of £3.2 million plus annual periodic payments for aids, therapies, 24-hour care and loss of earnings. The award is equivalent to £14 million over her lifetime.

Paul Paxton said: "Although this is a very large award, the money needs to last Issy a lifetime. Her needs are great but so too are her ambitions."

The second reason why people may not bring a claim is that they fear adverse implications for a friend or family member. It is important to understand that the insurance claim does not adversely affect the person you are claiming against. The admission of fault in a claim does not involve a criminal sanction.

Finally, another reason that someone may not bring a claim is because they do not want to put someone through a cumbersome process. The process involved is quite straightforward once fault is admitted. The most that the person responsible might have to do in a claim against them is provide a witness statement, as less than 10% of claims result in any court action.  

Following serious injury, people are entitled to seek peace of mind to know that they did everything in their power to recover some level of financial support to help them in the future.

To understand if someone has a viable claim, contact one of our experienced solicitors. [] who can discuss the case and advise on whether it can be progressed.

More information on Paul Paxton, Partner at Stewarts Law who specialises in complex personal injury claims, and led Issy’s case, can be found here.

Read more about our work with SIA here

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