The Law Society has warned that Government plans to up the small claims limit for personal injury to £5,000 will create a David and Goliath situation where people recovering from their injuries act as litigants-in-person without legal advice.
The Ministry of Justice has outlined plans in a consultation document to reform the low value personal injury sector which include raising the small claims limit for all minor soft tissue injuries and setting a fixed sum for minor claims at £400, or £425 if there is a psychological aspect to the injury. Claims that involve injuries whose symptoms last for longer than six months could be subject to a tariff of damages. Injuries that linger for seven to nine months could see a claimant awarded £700 in damages, while claimant’s affected for 19 months to two years could be awarded £3,500.
The insurer practice of presenting pre-med offers to claimants is also set to end.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said that the proposals would completely undermine the right of ordinary people to receive full and proper compensation from those that have injured them through negligence.
“This five-fold increase will stop people getting the legal advice they need in order to bring claims for the compensation they are entitled to in law,” he said.
“People may be tempted to try to bring claims themselves without expert advice. This will clog up the court system, creating a David and Goliath situation where people recovering from their injuries act as litigants in person without legal advice – those defending claims can often afford to pay for legal advice. This undermines ordinary people’s ability to access justice – especially if defendants refuse to accept liability, forcing people to fight through the courts without legal help.
“Spinning this proposal as an attack on the compensation culture and claiming it will reduce premiums is misleading. If you are injured through no fault of your own you should be allowed to claim for that.”
Bourns did however applaud the proposal to prevent claims being settled without medical evidence. He said that if implemented, the change would curtail the practice of some insurers trying to persuade people to settle for less than their claims are worth “without evidence of the actual value”.
Neil Sugarman, the president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), expressed further dismay at the planned reforms, saying that the right to compensation for an injury caused by someone else’s negligence had been an important aspect of civil justice for centuries.
“In a society where no-one bats an eyelid about claiming compensation for a late train or being mis-sold an insurance policy, the idea that injured people should be treated as some kind of second class citizens simply beggars belief,” he said.
“Why should compensation be denied to, or restricted for, a young mum who was previously perfectly fit but cannot pick up and hold her baby, or an elderly man who can’t get out and about as he used to do before he completely lost his confidence?”
“That’s what this Government is proposing. And, what’s more, it has not offered a shred of independent evidence to show the need for it.”