Friday, February 2, 2007

Taking the risk

Following on this week's theme of discussing the compensation culture.

Whatever the truth about the compensation culture, there is plenty of evidence for it coming from the personal injury sphere where in the past thirty years the law has been extended into all sorts of realms never before expected. Part of this has been down to judicial activism and partly due to both national and European legislation. A classic example comes in the area of sport in which we have seen liabilities established in recent years not only against players on the field but even as far as referees and governing bodies. As for legislation, this is most frequently seen in the health and safety at work regulations which were introduced in the 1990s and which place onerous duties on employers in relation to health and safety. This change towards a culture of blame and arguably away from personal responsibility is reflected in the increasing costs of litigation.

No-one likes to see the NHS and other such institutions losing money and resources on legal claims. Nor do any of us like having to pay increased insurance premiums. However, there are not many victims negligence who do not feel the right to be compensated in one form or another. The issue when it comes to it is the amount of risk that society allows us all to bear. The real difficulty with these extensions to the law of negligence and the inevitable increase in claims which follow is that people become more risk-averse. Not only may it discourage the little kindnesses by people such as doctors and teachers but it also potentially has an adverse effect on clinical judgments and the way people approach their work generally. As Tony Blair warned on 26 May 2005, “A risk-averse public sector will stifle creativity and deny to many the opportunities to be creative while supplying a few with compensation payments.”

Last year the government brought in the Compensation Act which allows a court to be able to consider the wider social value of the activity in the context of which the injury or damage occurred. Perhaps it is now time to consider reviewing the whole law of compensation for injuries more generally. To have an open debate in which issues such as personal responsibility and accountability can be discussed without people feeling that it is a matter of one extreme or the other.

Parts of this article appeared in the book The Future of the NHS edited by Dr Michelle Tempest.

1 comment:

Keztral said...

To many people want to get rich quick, so if they don't look where they are going and slip they sue and win. Time for a shake up!