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The government plans to increase the smalls claims limit for personal injury claims involving road traffic accidents to £5000. This would mean that a victim of a road traffic accident who has suffered minor to moderate injuries will be unable to recover their legal costs and therefore would have to pay privately for a Solicitor or be charged a large proportion of their compensation towards legal fees. Such an increase in the small claims limit for road traffic accidents would therefore remove an injured person’s right to access to justice.
The reason for the government proposals is to reduce the number of whiplash claims, being those injuries involving the neck and back, and to reduce the amounts paid out by insurance companies. Most people hear of the negative side of whiplash claims, such as “crash for cash” and that Britain is the whiplash capital of the world. It is accepted that there are those who attempt to exaggerate injuries or pursue false claims, however, these are in fact the minority.
A person who suffers a whiplash injury through a road traffic accident can experience significant pain which may result in them having to take time off work and cause real difficulties with their daily activities. What may start as a simple, minor whiplash injury can become a major hindrance.Solicitor representation will open doors to, for example, private medical treatment such as physiotherapy to aid recover and ultimately facilitate an earlier return to work and continued daily activities. Without such legal access an injured person would be forced to wait for treatment on the NHS which can cause delay in recovery, NHS waiting times being likely to increase as the small claims limit does.
Justice Minister Lord Keen recently insisted that litigants in person would be able to navigate the small claims process once Solicitors are effectively taken out of the equation and backed Claims Management Companies dealing with an injured person’s claim. An increase in the small claims limit will therefore mean those injured are forced to deal with a claim themselves, they would be forced to fund medical evidence to substantiate their claim and, if they are unable to, would not be in a position to validate their injuries. Insurance companies are likely to make early settlement offers to injured parties knowing that they are unable to assess the level of compensation and losses they should accurately be awarded. This will result in many injured people placing themselves at a real risk of under settling their claims prematurely having no experience in compensation recovery. Where settlement has occurred there will be no way for an injured party to address on going disability.
Whilst the government, insurance companies and the papers continue to portray a negative image of personal injury claims, in particular those involving whiplash, the facts are that costs of personal injury claims to insurers have fallen but yet insurance premiums still continue to rise. The question that must be raised therefore is what steps are the insurance industry taking to reduce the premiums paid to the consumer market after the proven reduction in road traffic claims?
The proposed increase in the small claims limit cannot be proportionate to the impact that will be ultimately suffered by the injured individual who will not have proper access to justice which must be a given right. This is simply a step too far.