And so this is Christmas.....and what have you done? Well, 2013 has certainly been a roller coaster year. So, is the injured person in a better or worse position than in 2012?
The changes in the law through the LASPO Act in April meant, in real terms, that the injured person recovered less compensation than ever before. Whilst the ‘good news’ message was that compensation payments should increase by 10 per cent,the bad news was that the victim didn’t actually get to keep it. Instead, compensation became subject to deductions in the region of 25 per cent, as the Government ruled that victims should contribute to the costs of their lawyers. No one asks to be injured – and you now get to pay for the ‘pleasure’.
This whole good news/bad news approach is still used to promote arguments that are really not in the interests of the injured person. Most recently it has been announced that mesothelioma claims should also become subject to the Act in order that they too benefit from the 10 per cent increase in damages. Very generous, save for the fact that any compensation may then also be eroded by up to 25 per cent as victims will be asked to contribute to the costs of their lawyers. Suddenly, it doesn’t sound like good news at all.
So damages went up and then down in the blink of an eye. But there were other problems. The focus on price, rather than justice, meant that fees were fixed at levels that made more complex cases too expensive to run. The problem is that there will always be a tendency to fix the fee to suit the more straightforward cases.Those cases which are more expensive and more complicated still involve people injured due to the negligence of others. These people are no less deserving, but the complexity of proving them means that they are unaffordable, and as a consequence they don’t get off the ground. Claims against employers are also likely to become harder to prove as a result of changes introduced through the Enterprise Act.
So, less money and an access to justice issue. But it wasn’t all bad news, and the tide turned a little towards the end of the year. The Government made the sensible decision to keep the majority of personal injury claims out of the small claims court for the time being.
Claims for whiplash fell back to 2008 levels, and yet talk of fraud in whiplash still dominated the media. Both the Ministry of Justice and the Transport Select Committee were determined to resolve the issue. Positive plans are now afoot to tackle fraud in whiplash through encouraging insurers to share their data. There are also plans to support the genuine victim by improving the quality of medical reporting, which we all welcome. The Government developed a healthy dislike of the practice of insurers offering to settle cases quickly before medical evidence is obtained, and vowed to put a stop to it. Tackling fraud is in everybody’s best interest. Every pound paid to a fraudster is a pound wasted.
Claims for medical negligence went up, sadly reflecting the decline in care standards in some hospitals. Rarely a week went by without a new story breaking about neglect. The best way to control the increase in claims is prevention of needless injury – never has the need been greater.
So what would we wish for in 2014? We would love to shift the focus from money back to justice,and care of the injured person. Whilst money seems to top every agenda, and be the trump card in every policy debate, we have a moral obligation to care.Sometimes, we have choices. In the fight to reduce motor premiums, there has been a concentration on reducing the amount paid out to injured people. But would it be a better choice to focus on the amount spent on repairing damages vehicles? The Competition Commission is expressing real concerns about the dysfunctional practices involved in car repairs, particularly in relation to the high cost of temporary replacement vehicles. This, and insurance overheads accounts for a far larger percentage of our premiums than whiplash claims. Perhaps it’s time in 2014 to prioritise repairing the person ahead of replacing the car.