The chancellor’s autumn statement attempts to undo hundreds of years of tort law. As a client said recently, ‘we cannot put the dead snail back in the bottle now’ (a private personal injury lawyer joke with origins dating back to 1932). Well, that is just what they are trying to do.
Why any government would have the audacity to distinguish between a man injured operating faulty machinery at work, allowing him to recover financially where, when suffering the same injuries, a man hit in a rear-end car accident would have no claim in the law of tort, is beyond us all.
If this ‘reform’ occurs it will be a national scandal – a final nail in the coffin for the vulnerable PI victim left standing alone against insurance giants.
So when did the wrongdoer’s profits become more important than injured people?
For many years law firms operating in the defendant insurance legal sector have provided ‘more for less’, with insurers intent on driving down the cost involved in defending personal injury claims. When insurers demand a Rolls-Royce claims-handling service at paralegal prices, defendant law firms have done their utmost to ensure that they continue to provide a service delivering ‘more for less’ year on year.
In relation to claimant PI legal services, fixed costs has meant that a quality service cannot be provided for injured victims, especially in complex liability claims. Complex and worth less than £5,000? Sorry, not a chance if the small-claims limit increases.
The stark reality is that driving the cost of legal claims down will save the insurance sector ‘loadsamoney’ and the legal services market will be destabilised in terms of financial cuts and redundancies.
We already know that claims are under-settled daily through lack of access to quality justice. The injured person will be far less protected than the Victorian ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ and the most vulnerable in society will, yet again, receive rough justice.
This letter is directed at all who operate in the claims industry; a government which has the power to do something to ensure access to justice for vulnerable claimants against wrongdoers; and insurers.
Will you please look long and hard at the law, your politics and your ethics?
Lesley Graves, managing director, Citadel Law, London EC1