Personal Injury law reform ‘wrong and unfair’
Wards Solicitors' personal injury lawyers have added their voices to a campaign opposing Government proposed reforms to the law in this area.
With an extremely short consultation period closing on 6 January, they are part of a growing number of lawyers worried about the implications of the outlined plans which include:
- Raising the small claims limit for personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000;
- Stopping or radically reducing compensation payments for minor soft tissue injuries, including whiplash, arising from road traffic accidents.
Fears are increasing that the changes would be a licence for insurance companies to under-settle or not pay out at all to nearly a million injured people a year.
Access to justice undermined
Partner Alison Underhill, a specialist accident and injury and medical negligence lawyer, said: "I have dedicated my career over the last 30 years to seeking justice on behalf of clients who have sustained injuries caused by the negligence of others, whether it be at work, out on the road or elsewhere. This work routinely involves fighting against large insurance companies, with unlimited resources who often deny liability and try to pay as little compensation as they can.
"I am extremely concerned that the proposals will seriously undermine access to justice as they will effectively mean that the vast majority of claimants will be unable to secure legal representation to assist them in their fight against insurers."
Alison believes that many people will be put at a disadvantage against 'fat cat' insurance companies still able to finance experienced lawyers to represent them and dispute claims.
'Unnecessary and unfair'
"This is plainly wrong and wholly unfair," she adds. "It means that innocent victims who have sustained painful and debilitating injuries through no fault of their own will not be able to recover proper compensation for their injury."
"These proposals completely undermine the right of ordinary people to access justice and are unnecessary and unfair."
Whilst Alison wrote to her MP to oppose the changes, her colleague Richard Green met North Somerset MP Dr Liam Fox, also the Secretary of State for International Trade.
In a helpful meeting, Richard was able to highlight the impact these changes will have on ordinary people and stressed that the real problem that the Government needs to tackle is the unethical practices of Claims Management Companies in cold calling by telephone and text messages, which lawyers have been calling on the Government to ban for some time.
Richard was also able to explain to Dr Fox that if the small claims court limit was to be extended to cover all claims under £5000, it would potentially prevent a person from being able to seek legal representation in cases such as where they had injured their back in an accident at work but because of a pre-existing back problem, they were likely to suffer back pain in the future or someone who had suffered a whiplash injury and a fractured leg which had healed relatively quickly.
There have been repeated calls for the very short consultation period which runs over the Christmas period to be extended to allow sufficient time for parties to properly respond to the proposals to ensure that the Government fully understands the wide-ranging impact these proposals will have on access to justice.