How can people who decry the ‘compensation culture’ speak of ‘access to justice’?
Most would agree, I’m fairly confident, that ‘access to justice’ is a noble concept and one that should be deeply enshrined in the constitution of any democracy worth the name.
Let’s take a scenario. You are doing your bit for both your waistline and the planet and cycling to work. As you are riding across a side street a car approaches from the left at high speed. The driver of this vehicle is either oblivious to the Give Way markings on the road or believes they apply to you, not him, and drives straight into your path. You do not have a prayer of avoiding him, even though you apply your brakes with such force your wheels lock. You career into the side of his car and are knocked out cold. When you awake, you are in hospital with a broken leg, broken arm, fractured collarbone, lacerations to your face and scalp and your right hand is black, swollen and, for the time being, completely useless.
Now, what would you say to someone who told you that you can do nothing about the situation in which you now find yourself? You won’t even be able to put weight on your leg for a couple of weeks and it will be a long time before you can hold a pen or operate a computer, let alone make food for yourself or help look after your family, if you have one.
In short, unless you are the most magnanimous person possible, you will want, and need, to be compensated. Creditors do not forgo sending bills and invoices just because their customer is lying in hospital. Additionally, if you’ve been seriously hurt because someone else didn’t give your safety a minute’s thought, wouldn’t you want them punished?
There is a huge amount of hypocrisy endemic to the detractors of personal injury compensation, of which there are many.
I find it hard to believe that anybody who is dismissive of the ‘compensation culture’ or speaks of ‘ambulance chasers’ would either use those terms or refuse compensation altogether if they found themselves in the above scenario.
I would even go so far as to suggest that those who talk of such a culture might very quickly demand ‘access to justice’ if they were the ones who had been hurt. Even though they are speaking of exactly the same legal right!
The insurance industry says personal injury lawyers and their customers are to blame for driving up their costs and therefore the price of premiums. Something doesn’t add up there. Proportionally speaking there has been no increase in the number of road traffic accident claims: it has risen in line with the number of vehicles on our roads, which only stopped increasing for the first time, ever, in 2010.
There is also an undeniable suspicion, although it has never been directly levelled at the claims companies by their opponents, that they either encourage fraudulent claims to be made or turn a blind eye when they comes along naturally.
This is nonsense: as legal organisations regulated by the government, PI firms simply cannot encourage people to lie about having hurt themselves to get money for it. Sure, people do it. They’re called criminals and they are a blight on the industry. They give it a bad name and their activity, including ‘cash for crash’ scams, drives up costs for insurers and therefore consumers. That, undeniably, is an area that needs reviewed, and claims companies would be only too delighted to get involved in any industry think-tanks to help the police prosecute more of the people involved in this lucrative criminal enterprise.
If we assert that all the claims with which PI companies deal in good faith are genuine, then they cannot simply be airbrushed out of the law.
If we are to believe what the insurance industry is saying, we have two options:
We can drive costs down by removing the provision for funding personal injury claims from car insurance premiums altogether, ending up with a legal system where offenders may be punished but their victims will be left at the side of the road.
Or we can accept that, with around 30 million registered vehicles on our roads, accidents are going to happen. We need to be able to protect each other from the effects of dangerous driving, which is why all UK motorists have been obliged to carry third-party insurance since 1930, and why a percentage of all motor premiums will be to cover legal costs, in much the same way as another percentage of it will be for windscreen cover.
The insurance industry, spending four times as much on advertising as claims companies as they desperately try to recover from years of mismanagement, need to get their own house in order before they start levelling hollow accusations at an industry doing its job better than them.