Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Compensation Culture

By Aidan Ellis

This will be the February 2007 editorial for the PIBU Law Journal.

This month provided more fuel for the tabloid fire against the so called compensation culture. The newspaper headlines this morning again concerned large negligence pay outs. This time the culprit was the NHS and not the prison service. We are told that the NHS paid out more money in negligence claims last year, than its entire budget deficit.

On a related point, a District Judge commented to me recently that claims are being brought that just would not have been contemplated even ten years ago. He had in mind claims for minor soft tissue injuries and bruising lasting a couple of weeks. These are commonly now brought, especially on behalf on child Claimants, and typically attract settlements of £1,000 or less. But is it necessarily wrong to bring a low value claim, where the law permits it?

By fixating on large pay outs, the press coverage often masks the real problems with our legal culture. Many interesting and concerning issues revolve around conditional fee agreements and their ally the new predictive fee regime. Perhaps after 5 – 10 years of conditional fees it is time for personal injury lawyers to engage in a serious dialogue about how they have affected our practices.

One concern with conditional fee agreements is that they may encourage speculative claims. These attempt to push the boundaries of the law, so exposing the law and lawyers to media criticism. I also wonder if there is a concern about the integrity of the profession. What effect do conditional fees have on the early settlement of cases? Finally, we might question whether conditional fees have helped access to justice. Do the most risky cases attract the best legal representation? Whatever the right answer to these questions, there are serious questions for our profession hiding behind the newspaper outrage.

1 comment:

Lawyerlike said...

Thanks for the linkage!