The government’s recent proposed reforms to personal injury claims and lawyers fees have cause controversy amongst the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). In an attempt to streamline the claims process, the government have simultaneously exposed a stance on ‘health and safety’ which the APIL claim could put employees at risk. This article will explore the exact changes proposed by the government to compensation law, as well as investigating why the APIL have reservations about how beneficial such changes will be.
On the 5th January 2012 David Cameron announced plans to cap the fees of a personal injury lawyer from all personal injury claims at £25,000, claiming that such changes would alter the “compensation culture” and its negative ramifications in limiting the growth of small, independent businesses in the UK. The aim of the changes is to at once streamline the claims process as well as deter individuals or employees from making speculative claims against a business who may have done nothing wrong. Cameron said of the reforms that he is “waging war” against “the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses.” Cameron went on to add,
“Every day they battle against a tide of risk assessment forms and face the fear of being sued for massive sums. The financial cost of this culture runs into the billions each year. So this coalition has a clear new year’s resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good.”
As well as introducing a cap to curb lawyer’s fees, the government proposed changes to the law surrounding health and safety so that businesses are not automatically at fault if something goes wrong at work.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers have expressed “grave concerns” about the speed at which the coalition is making reforms and the extent of the new system. The APIL have expressed worries about the safety of employees, and highlighted the increased possibility for employee neglect should they find themselves in a situation where they have an accident at work.
David Bott, president of the association said,
“The danger is that workers could be exposed to an unnecessary risk of injury and then be left with a civil justice system which cuts them off from their right to full and fair redress. Instead of watering down the rules, which are designed to protect workers, businesses should be made to feel confident in the knowledge they have nothing to fear from litigation provided they take reasonable steps to prevent needless injury. Any fear businesses have should be for the welfare of their staff, not legal costs.”
Further criticism of government proposals has been voiced by Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. Jones commented,
“Labelling workplace health and safety as a monster is appalling and unhelpful, as the reason our legislative system exists is to prevent death, injury or illness at work, protecting livelihoods in the process.”
But not everyone is critical of the government’s plans. The director general of the Association of British Insurers said of the changes,
“The government is to be commended for grasping the need to tackle our compensation culture. We are pleased that the government will be extending the cap on the amount lawyers can earn from small value personal injury claims. We have long campaigned for reforms to halt the compensation bandwagon to reduce frivolous claims and excessive legal costs.”
Many worry that although the reforms aim to tackle the compensation culture, they could end up unduly affecting victims of personal injury, creating an argument for legal negligence on the part of the coalition government itself.