If on my way to work tomorrow I was struck by a car and rendered tetraplegic, the effect upon my enjoyment of the remainder of my life would be shattering. The effects of this condition are miserable and innumerable.
Let us assume that I find myself paralysed from the neck down and suffer the indignity of needing assistance with toileting for the rest of my years, as I am doubly incontinent. Let us assume also that never again am I able to enjoy intimate moments with my wife, I experience continuous pain and am unable to communicate. I am chronically depressed. I have to be fed all meals and I develop heart and breathing difficulties. I will never play with my children or enjoy a walk in the hills with my family, to whom I will see myself as a burden – even if they assure me I am not.
I am fully aware of the impact of all these problems. For the pain, suffering, indignity, the destruction of quality of life and the lost years engaging with my children as they grow, I will receive a maximum award of £288,500. I would receive a similar amount if I was instead rendered blind and deaf. Were I killed instantly, my wife would receive £12,980 for the grief and sorrow, and the loss of care, guidance and society I had provided. While on occasion my wife might regard that as a rather generous sum, on the whole I am sure she would consider it an insult.
These and other awards detailed in the Judicial College Guidelines are set at grotesquely low rates that some might argue give the impression of a callous indifference to the indignity and suffering of those who are intended to benefit. Indeed, one might argue that they bring the law into disrepute.
Direct Line’s Tom Woolgrove is therefore wrong to ask the government to focus on reducing general damages for low-level claims. The priority must be to increase awards across the board substantially – but particularly for the more serious injuries, where insurers get a windfall every time a claim settles. I must make two more observations on what Mr Woolgrove said.
First, Lord Justice Jackson’s package of reforms assumed damages at a certain level when he proposed a 10% increase to compensate for the loss of recoverability of success fees and after-the-event insurance premiums. You cannot reduce those awards without unravelling the rest of the reforms.
Second, Direct Line has now applied to become an alternative business structure providing, inter alia, legal advice to its customers in connection with accident claims. To argue against the interests of the customers he expects to use those services in future puts him in clear conflict. Mr Woolgrove must learn to balance the interests of his shareholders with those of his customers, as it would seem they are pulling him in opposite directions.
Richard Edwards, E. Rex Makin & Co, Liverpool