Why are victims always the fall guys in the PI debate?
You may have caught a snippet on BBC Breakfast this morning reporting on a kids’ rugby tournament where there will be no winners.
Instead, the children will play for the fun of it, with teams designed to be of equal strength and ability.
The inevitable and lazy vox pops of a group of parents found a host of frothing-at-the-mouth hard-nuts insisting it’s good for little Johnny to experience losing. Ah yes, truly the experience of losing 83-0 will be good for his soul – I just hope he credits this moment when he’s collecting his Nobel/Pulitzer/Oscar.
The intention of the piece was obvious: we’re a nanny state too molly-coddled for our own good and it’s turning Britain soft.
It’s the same assumption that has created people’s perception of the claims culture, in which the modern, pathetic Briton can’t walk down a street without hurting themselves and blaming someone. There’s a (mostly older) generation playing out the Monty Python Yorkshireman sketch, describing ever-greater injuries suffered in their youth for which they never claimed a penny.
The blame culture was at full throttle in Blackpool, it seems, where the local council, a quasi-landlord to PI firm North Solicitors, took umbrage at the firm making claims against it and ended its tenancy agreement.
In a fascinating High Court judgment released on Friday, it was found the council acted in an ‘act of retaliation, pure and simple, to punish the claimant firm by causing it some difficulty and inconvenience’.
The Blackpool case is shocking in two ways: firstly the local authority has cut its nose off to spite its face. The council-owned Enterprise Centre which housed North Solicitors was ‘never fully occupied’ nor was there ‘any question’ that demand for office space exceeded supply.
By shifting the blame onto solicitors it appears to have done little to acknowledge why the accidents happen in the first place.
What has always been tragic about solicitors getting the blame for a culture of claims is it lets the guilty off the hook.
Too many local authorities and health trusts have sought to massage embarrassing and shocking claims figures by blaming those helping victims to recover – and the media are willing accomplices (witness this extraordinary piece in the Worcester News, in which victims are treated almost as an inconvenience).
In short, Blackpool council appears to have tackled the symptom rather than the cause of the safety problem, while also cutting off a revenue stream.
If there is an unprecedented number of claims, as the council argued, has it ever occurred to those in power that they, rather than those helping the injured, could be to blame?
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter