Compensation Claims - Not all Scams

On Thursday Channel 4 aired a programme called ‘Scams Claims and Compensation Claims’.  Literally watched by millions across the country, this programme followed solicitor Steve Ireland, from Paul Rooney Solicitors in Liverpool and an employed claims investigator working for London’s Lambeth Council.

As a Personal Injury lawyer with Lanyon Bowdler I found this particularly interesting to watch – I summarise below some of what was shown, and towards the end of this blog I also point out a few facts not so well covered by the programme.

Back to the show - on one side there was Steve Ireland defending his position as a lawyer and on the other the claims investigator, who was putting forward a case against lawyers with such comments as "lawyers are out to make money for themselves". 

The programme also illustrated a selection of cases where injured people were pursuing claims for compensation.  Claims included;

• A young boy who had fractured his toe in the school playground due to a defective drain;

• An elderly gentleman who had tripped whilst walking near his home;

• A young man who had sustained a laceration to his face whilst using a defective razor;

• A mother who had fallen on a school playing field during sports day; and

• A lady who had been hit by a branch falling from a tree on Clapham Common.

The claims investigator stated solicitors want an easy life and that he had been employed to "take on the lawyers".  He further stated that traditions are being spoilt by the threat of litigation, and events such as a sports day can no longer be enjoyed because of the ‘national psyche’ of the compensation culture.  He suggested the public are no longer taking responsibility for their own actions, but see an injury as a way of getting money for nothing - driven by greed.

It is worth noting that in the cases illustrated the young boy was successful in receiving compensation, as was the man who had been cut by the razor and the lady who had been struck by a branch from the tree.  But what the programme failed to illustrate in detail, is the fact that for there to be a claim there has to be negligence, and the negligence has to have caused the injury, preferring to use phrases such as "where's there blame there's a claim".

The claims investigator further added that it’s the tax payer who is funding claims against local authorities, and that local authorities pay out £10m per year in claims for slips and trips.  But… the public are paying council tax in the first place which is supposed to go towards ensuring the pavements are safe walk on.  So, just where does our council tax go, if pavements in certain areas are so dangerous large sums of money are being paid out to injured pedestrians? 

The case of the elderly gentleman who tripped didn’t succeed.  This was because the defect was deemed to not be defective enough.  It was not because of the claims investigator doing a good job in the "war against lawyers".  The particular council concerned had done their appropriate inspections, and were able to provide evidence in support of this, and the defect was not of great enough. 

It’s all well and good council’s blaming lawyers for the cost of claims made against them, but if inspections were carried out correctly and appropriately, the claims would not succeed in the first place.

The programme also suggested any injury can result in a claim, and that there are often fraudulent claims being made.  The reality is that fraudulent claims do not succeed.  Not every person who is injured will pursue a claim for compensation, and it is not for the lawyer to persuade them to do so.  Lawyers do not make contact with injured people, it’s the injured person who makes contact with the lawyer. 

If someone is injured and the injury was due to someone else’s negligence why shouldn’t there be a claim for compensation?  People expect the person caught drink driving, speeding or driving whilst using a mobile phone to be prosecuted by the police, and will even go to lengths of reporting them.  If someone was killed in a road traffic accident as a result of a drink driver do people really think the victim's family should just turn the other cheek and say "that's life"?  What if it were your young child?  The actions of drink driving and speeding are acts of negligence. 

Of course, some acts of negligence are more dangerous than others and can lead to far more serious injuries than those illustrated in Channel 4’s programme.  For instance, a man with a young family who sustains catastrophic injuries, which will mean he is no longer able to work, as a result of an accident caused by a drunk driver is hardly getting involved in the so called compensation culture.  He is merely seeking compensation to ensure his future security and that of his family. 

Perhaps before criticising those seeking compensation for injuries, a step back should be taken, have a look at the injuries involved and consider the long term effect they will have on a person’s life and that of their family.  Generally speaking, those who frown upon people claiming compensation are in the fortunate position to have never been injured, or seen the often devastating effects an injury can cause.

But please remember, not all claims succeed – to succeed there needs to be negligence and that negligence has to have caused the injury.