Claims for minor ‘whiplash-type’ injuries resulting from road traffic accidents have long been the cause of conflict between Claimant solicitors and Defendant insurers. The objective of the Civil Liability Bill is to bring to an end what is often described by the government and motor insurance industry as a ‘compensation culture’.
What Will Change under the Civil Liability Bill?
The main changes proposed by the Civil Liability Bill are:
- A tariff scheme which will limit damages for whiplash-type injuries with compensation set at as little as £235.00 (the average compensation for the same injury prior to the Civil Liability Bill would be in the region of £1,800.00)
- A rise in the small claims limits for personal injury claims from £1,000.00 to £5,000.00 for road traffic accident-related personal injury claims, meaning that most whiplash-type claims will fall within this limit
The Future for Claimants?
The effect of a rise in the small claims limit and a low-level tariff-based compensation scheme is likely to make it much more difficult (if not impossible) for a Claimant who has suffered a whiplash-type injury to bring a claim.
The Claimant will have no option but to follow the Small Claims process meaning that, if they need to obtain legal advice, they must do so at their own cost. The Law Society’s view is that the Civil Liability Bill is likely to unreasonably restrict access to justice for injured Claimants.
An example: road traffic accident in Leicestershire
J was involved in a road traffic accident in Leicestershire. He was aged 8 at the time and was a rear seat passenger in a car being driven by his mother.
J’s mother was stationary in traffic waiting to join a dual carriageway. Without warning and at a speed of approximately 60mph, a car collided with the rear of J’s mother’s car. The speed of the impact caused J’s mother’s car to spin and collide with another nearby vehicle.
Thankfully J was not severely injured and the whiplash injury to his neck recovered within a few weeks of the accident. He did, however, find the accident extremely upsetting (particularly as his mother had been injured as well). J suffered psychological upset for almost 18 months, to the extent that he required a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
As expected, the other driver’s insurer accepted responsibility for the accident straight away. Medical evidence was obtained from an orthopaedic consultant and a child psychiatrist. The Court approved a settlement for J’s claim in the region of £3,000.00. J’s legal costs were met by the other driver’s insurer.
Civil Liability Bill v Access to Justice?
If J’s claim had been subject to the changes proposed by the Civil Liability Bill:
- The value of J’s injuries was less than £5,000.00 and his claim would be governed by the Civil Liability Bill
- His physical injuries resolved within a few weeks and his compensation could have been limited to a tariff award of as little as £235.00
- His claim would have been subject to the Small Claims procedure
- His legal costs would not have been met by the other driver’s insurer (including the consultants’ fees)
- The legal costs would certainly have absorbed most, and more than likely all, of his compensation
J, or his parents, could have brought the claim without legal representation. Taking on an insurance company could have presented a number of issues:
- How could J or his parents be expected to deal with his claim if the insurer had denied liability? That alone might discourage a Claimant from continuing with an entirely bona fide claim
- How could J or his parents be expected to put forward compelling arguments if the insurer had valued J’s claim much lower than the proper value? A Claimant could easily be pressured into accepting inadequate compensation
Taking account of the low tariff scheme and the fact that J would have had to meet his own legal costs, it is likely that he would have received very little compensation, if any at all. Of course, the alternative is to attempt to take on a multi-million pound insurer, who will have instructed solicitors to represent them!
Solicitors specialising in road traffic accident claims
For more information about road traffic accident claims contact our specialist personal injury solicitors on any of the following numbers: