Dispelling the myths of the compensation culture – February 2011

- News,

Stephen Brookes writes to the Editor of the Evening Sentinel on the myth of the compensation culture!

22nd February 2011

Dear Sirs,

I thought I had better respond to the article appearing in the Sentinel newspaper for the 22nd February 2011 under the name of Mr Martin Tideswell on the nauseating compensation culture in order to dispel a few myths!

I am a personal injury solicitor and a partner of Salmons solicitors in Newcastle under Lyme and Stoke on Trent. I have specialised in personal injury claims since 1987. Accordingly I feel that I can write with some authority on this subject.

At the outset let me say that I too am nauseated by the boringly repetitive adverts by ambulance chasing lawyers and claims management companies whether appearing on daytime TV or appearing in the pages of your newspaper. We do not, of course, hear the Evening Sentinel complaining much about that revenue stream!

However, in a recent Government report it was conceded that there was no compensation culture in the UK but there was a perception of such, fostered generally by media reporting and the growth of ambulance chasing advertisements.

Much of the advertisements are encouraged by the legalisation of referral fees, often of several hundreds of pounds, frequently paid to claims management companies or legal expenses insurers by panel solicitors. It was pressure from the Office of Fair Trading which caused the professional regulator ( in those days, the Law Society) to relax the previous ban and the recovery of success fees on winning cases is seen by Lord Justice Jackson, in his recent report on the subject of the costs of civil litigation, as a driver of heavy advertising and the facilitator of the referral fee system.

It was the Government which promoted the recovery of success fees on the winning of no win no fee funded cases as a way to promote access to justice following the withdrawal of legal aid from such cases in 1999.

The laws which underwrite the recovery of damages in pavement tripping claims have been with us since 1980 and the much of the employers liability legislation is European derived and has been with us since 1992. It is in the interests of insurers to complain about the compensation culture as a means to justify the raising of insurance premiums but it is those same insurers which drive up legal costs by failing to settle decent claims on time.

I think it is important for a newspaper to get the facts right. All claims for personal injury have to be registered with the Government’s Compensation Recovery Unit which recovers state benefits from compensation and they keep statistics on cases brought. Reference to those statistics will demonstrate no overall significant increase in the number of claims year on year, but the myth makes for a better headline that the truth does it not?

Yours sincerely,
Stephen A Brookes
Partner
Salmons Solicitors