Claiming compensation for personal injury – Myth v Reality

There has been a lot of recent press coverage aimed at perpetuating the myth of a compensation culture. Much of this PR effort has been orchestrated by the insurance industry and swallowed ‘hook, link and sinker’ by the government .

 

We would like to redress the balance and provide a reasoned argument in support of the right of hurt and injured people to seek fair compensation.

 

    

Myth 

 

We live in a compensation culture where people sue at the drop of a hat for even the most trivial injuries.

 

Reality

  

In order to make a successful claim for personal injury compensation an accident victim has to prove that they have been hurt or injured. Unless the evidence supports the claim the case has no chance of success, ever, period. Spurious damages claims may grab the headlines but they will never see the light of day in court. Anyone can claim compensation but it’s the follow-through that counts and the papers never report on the half-baked claims that never succeed.

 

We are only concerned here about real people who have suffered real injuries.

 

The fact is that many people still don’t realise that they have a right to claim compensation if they have been hurt or injured in an accident that wasn’t their fault.

 

We know from research carried out by the Citizens Advice Bureau that over 60% of people entitled to make a claim for compensation fail to do so. From our own experience, we find that many people who go on to become clients of the firm are unsure about making a claim for a variety of reasons. It’s our job to help accident victims and their families understand their rights and guide them through the legal process.

 

We understand that some people are affected by the myth of a ‘compensation culture’ and may be concerned about what family, friends and even collagues at work will think if they make a claim.

 

For instance, passengers injured in a car driven by a family member or a friend can become distressed by the very thought of seeking damages and workers can be unwilling to claim against their employers for fear of reprisals or victimisation.

 

The reality is that hurt and injured people have a hard enough challenge coming to terms with the effects of their accident without having to deal with the added and unnecessary stress of worrying about paying their bills and coping with their rehabilitation. 

 

We would like to know what you think about the ‘compensaton culture’. We believe that accident victims are coming under increased pressure not to claim compensation and that many are being bullied into accepting low-value, unfair offers from insurance companies. Do you agree?

Hidden scandal of UK businesses who fail to pay for Employers’ Liability Insurance

The former landlords of a Lancashire pub were finally convicted last week after they failed to buy insurance to protect their employees. Stephen and Karen Martin were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after they employed staff at the Hinds Head pub in Charnock Richard without purchasing the legally required Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance.

 

As the pair did not buy any insurance, they had no means of paying their employees any compensation they could be awarded in the event of them falling ill or suffering an injury at work. Despite being warned by HSE inspectors on several occasions between September 2010 and February 2011, the couple failed to address the issue.

 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE investigating inspector Shellie Bee said:

 

‘Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance is a legal requirement and not an optional extra. Because Stephen and Karen Martin cut corners to save money, they were putting their employees in a position where they could have potentially suffered a life changing illness or injury at work and had no recourse to any kind of compensation. Despite being given ample opportunity to correct this problem over a period of months, they chose to ignore the advice they were given by HSE so we had no choice but to prosecute.’

 

In the current economic climate the temptation for businesses to save money by cutting back on worker safety is a worrying trend and one which we feel must be strongly guarded against.

 

Instead of berating hurt and injured people for having the temerity to claim compensation for accidents at work, the government should focus on the hidden scandal of rogue businesses, large and small, that fail in their legal duty to pay for Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance – the clue, after all is in the title.

 

The UK media is quick to highlight fraudlent accident compensation claims and the mythical ‘compensation culture’  but rather less enthusisatic to turn the spotlight on law-breaking companies…

 

Bonnar & Company is preparing a dossier on this issue and we would welcome your thoughts.

Marks & Spencer fined £1 million over asbestos risk

High Street giants Marks & Spencer suffered a spectacular fall from grace on Tuesday when the company was fined £1 million for putting customers and staff at risk of exposure to asbestos in its Reading store.

The company was also ordered to pay costs of £600,000 at the sentencing hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court. Contractors working on the refurbishment of the Broad Street store were also handed fines of £100,000 and £50,000 for breaches of Health & Safety Regulations.  

Despite government pronouncements that retail environments are inherently safe and that industry needs only a ‘light touch’ approach when assessing risks to health and safety, these serious shortcomings on the part of a highly respected UK business suggest that the opposite is true.

If a household name like Marks & Spencer can fall foul of health & safety legislation we should be very concerned about lapses in standards across the country, especially in the current economic climate when the temptation exists to save money by cutting corners on worker and public safety.

Construction workers continue to be at high risk of serious injury or death and we echo the comments made by Richard Boland, the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) Southern head of operations for construction who said:

“This outcome should act as a wake up call that any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money – no matter what.”

Bonnar & Company Solicitors specialises in accident and work and industrial disease compensation claims. Call us free on 0800 163 978 for impartial expert legal advice.  

Referral fees in personal injury cases – the real culprits

How would you feel if your solicitor had sold your personal details to an insurance company, a claims management company, a car hire firm or a vehicle repair garage? …Exactly.

…and how would you feel if your insurance company had sold your personal details without your knowledge??

The fact is that insurance companies have been making money this way for years, by selling accident details to third parties.

Now, having been found out, they now have the bare-faced cheek to welcome the proposed government reforms announced last week by Jonathan Djanogly MP, Under Secretary of State for Jusrtice. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is on record as stating that they didn’t actually want to charge referral fees in the first place but felt they had to otherwise someone else would.

Well that’s alright then. What they really meant to say was that they could not possibly ignore a lucrative, no-cost, income generation stream, so why not have the moral fibre to say so?

Then they shamelessly turn the heat up on innocent accident victims claiming that people who have the temerity to actually seek compensation are the main cause of increases in car insurance premiums.

It is really quite nauseating to hear the insurance companies bleat their belated concerns on referral fees from their newly discovered moral high ground.

As personal injury solicitors helping hurt and injured people every day, we regularly have to dispel the myths and set the record straight on what’s involved in making a compensation claim.

We never have and never will pay an insurance company for a road traffic accident claimant’s details and we would be very happy to see the back of referral fees for all types of personal injury cases.  We would welcome much greater transparency at every stage of the claims process, because for the most part most of the public have got it wrong through no fault of their own.

They have been fed a line by the insurance companies that claiming compensation is borderline immoral in this current climate and conversely  ‘sold’ an idea by the claims companies that they only need to register aclaim to be awarded damages. No wonder people are confused…and no wonder most people with a genuine claim still do not make a claim for compensation (The Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux research).

The problem,however, is that the current heated debate has not shed much light on the real culprits, namely the insurance industry and claims management firms.

The former uses its slick PR machine to vilify and stigmatise legitimate claimants and actively discourages accident victims from making a claim. The latter get in between claimants and professionally qualified legal advisors and have created a commodity market in accident claims which they seek to trade.

The real losers are the claimants. Many car accident victims are discouraged by their own insurance company from appointing an independent solicitor and furthermore claimants are generally unaware that they are often not dealing directly with a qualified solicitor but with an unqualified and unregulated claims management intermediary who is normally unable to do anything for them other than ‘find’ them a lawyer – at a price…expensive televison adverts have to be paid for somehow. 

The answer is simple. Let claimants shop around..as most are now already doing.

There is no shortage of advice available to help people make an informed choice and by advice I mean proper independent advice such as that provided by the CAB, The Law Society of Scotland, The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers or organisations such as Headway UK – the Brian Injury Association – none of which have a financial interest in recommending the best solicitor for the job.

As a final check claimants should always seek out and study testimonials from satisfied customers of their preferred law firm. 

 

 

   

 

 

  

Banning referral fees for personal injury claims in the UK – who is to blame for increased car insurance premiums?

According to the Association of British Insurers, motorists who have been in a road traffic accident are the main cause of increased car insurance premiums.

 

Unfortunately for hurt and injured people, insurance companies are winning the public debate on the so-called compensation culture and last week’s decision by the government to ban the payment of referral fees in exchange for the contact details of road traffic accident victims would appear to vindicate their position that UK motorists are driving up costs by making up spurious accident compensation claims with intent to defraud the system…

 

Are we really to believe that the majority of road traffic accident claims are fraudulent?

 

However, let’s assume for argument’s sake that motorists the length and breadth of the UK are indeed staging accidents for the purpose of making a claim. If it is true that fraudulent claims are costing the insurance industry millions and these costs are being passed on to other motorists we have to wonder why these claims are being settled at all.

 

If the insurance companies know for a fact that the claims are fraudulent why on earth are these people not being prosecuted?

 

Either the insurance companies are happy to pay out on fraudulent claims, lazily pass the costs on to other policy holders and not pursue the fraudsters through the courts, or they have no evidence to back up their core assertion that personal injury claims are the cause of increased premiums. THEY CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.

 

We all know how difficult it can be to make a legitimate claim on our own household insurance policy for a genuine accident at home and we all know from personal experience or from talking to family and friends the lengths that insurance companies will go to avoid paying out.

 

Are we really to believe that insurance companies apply a less rigorous test when assessing the merits of a (potentially) costly personal injury claim and deciding whether or not to admit liability?

 

Can it be that insurance companies just don’t like paying out on insurance policies?

 

When making a claim for personal injury following a road traffic accident the injured person has to prove that their injuries were caused by someone else. Without proof there is no claim, period.

 

At Bonnar & Company we very quickly root out any potential accident compensation claims that are likely to fail from lack of evidence. However, injured people can sometimes find it hard to understand that we cannot help them with their claim if we cannot prove that someone else was at fault.

 

It is even harder to take when injuries are very serious and the accident victim has clearly suffered but the fact remains – solicitors need to prove their cases. Otherwise anyone could claim for an injury and the insurance company would just pay up, no questions asked…Wait a minute. Is this not the line we are being fed by the insurance industry?

 

So what is the insurance industry talking about? Simples! The answer is profit, plain and simple. The insurance industry would prefer that nobody made a claim for personal injury and that is why their propaganda machine has moved into overdrive recently to stigmatise hurt and injured people who are already worried about making a claim.

 

Make no mistake we want a healthy and vigorous insurance industry with the financial strength to provide us all with cover but we want a fair insurance industry that will compensate genuine accident victims with as little fuss and bluster as possible.

 

What is an accident victim expected to do? Are we just supposed to grin and bear it when some careless driver runs into us, causing us pain and suffering and forcing us to take time off work…if we’re lucky?

 

What if we’re not lucky? What if we can’t work again? What if we can’t walk again? What if the outcome is even worse for us and by association for our families?

 

Against this backdrop of pain, suffering and loss of earnings the insurance industry has worked tirelessly to paint innocent accident victims as the villains of the piece and make them think twice about taking independent legal advice.

 

Let’s be clear on one thing. A successful personal injury claim is not the same thing as a lottery win. In order to be awarded compensation the successful claimant must have been injured and in order to be awarded a very large sum of money the claimant must have been very seriously injured. Of course not only must the claimant have been injured they have to prove that their injuries were caused by someone else’s negligence.

 

Personal injury compensation is not a guessing game in which claimants and lawyers think of a number and try their luck. Awards are carefully calculated based on pain, suffering and loss of earnings. Despite rumours to the contrary you will not receive a small fortune for a minor injury. It just does not happen.

 

Please also bear in mind that the insurance companies employ an army of solicitors who are not about to sanction a compensation claim without a forensic level of scrutiny. This, incidentally, is the main reason why accident victims need to take independent legal advice.  

 

Assuming an accident victim is determined enough to make a claim for compensation, then the insurance company tries really hard to persuade that person to accept its first and inevitably low offer ‘in full and final settlement’. Insurance companies know the same day and often within the hour, if one of their policy holders has caused an accident and they rush to deal with the claim ASAP often before the injured party has had an opportunity to visit their GP far less consult an independent solicitor.

 

This practice, which is called ‘third party capture’ is endemic throughout the UK and was the subject of a Radio 4 investigation in 2010. Is it fair for multi-national insurance companies to put injured people under intense pressure to settle their claim in the immediate aftermath of their accident? Is this justice? You may well ask why insurance companies rush to settle claims before a personal injury solicitor gets involved.

 

Insurance companies would say that it keeps costs down by short-circuiting the legal process. We would say what about the rights of the hurt and injured to be examined by expert medical professionals and have their claim properly evaluated?    

 

If you are thinking that all personal injury solicitors are ‘ambulance chasers’ you should think about the propaganda that underpins the insurance companies’ position and the fact that it is in their interest to stigmatise both accident victims and their solicitors.

 

But what of the real stigma that rightly attaches to the insurance industry, its PR operation and its legal advisors?    

 

You may wonder who has been receiving referral fees for passing on details of accident victims.

 

One guess?

 

Correct! The insurance industry itself has been pocketing millions over the years and is now portraying its behaviour as ‘squeaky clean’. Admiral Insurance has admitted to earning over £6million per annum from road traffic accident referral fees and one has to wonder what the grand total is across the industry. Our conservative estimate is that the minimum total value of road traffic accident referral fees raked in by the insurance industry is £100 million per annum given the number of insurance companies in the UK and taking Admiral’s ‘take’ as a benchmark.

 

We have not, do not and never will pay an insurance company any money for an accident victim’s personal details. We find the whole idea repulsive as do many of our colleagues in the legal profession.

 

Can we look forward to a reduction in car insurance premiums? Don’t hold your breath but remember the quoted figure of £150 as the average annual saving UK motorists can expect as a result of ‘striking a blow’ against fraudulent compensation claims from car accident victims and their ‘ambulance chasing’ legal advisors.

 

Personally speaking, my blood is boiling at the antics of the insurance industry as it manufactures its own spurious evidence and attempts to stigmatise and disadvantage hurt and injured people at a vulnerable time in their lives.

 

Perhaps, if I look hard enough, I could find a firm of solicitors with no moral compass and no business sense who would be willing to waste their time, money and resources to help me prepare a spurious compensation claim against the insurance industry for ‘aggravated high blood pressure and associated psychological trauma’…or would that be too ridiculous?   

 

Answers on a postcard to the Association of British Insurers.