In November the Government passed its Civil Liability Bill through the House of Commons for the second time. This means that, essentially, it has completed its journey through Parliament. I think it’s fair to say it went entirely unnoticed by the news media.
But this anonymous little bill does two things:
Firstly, it increases the small claims limit for injury cases, and, secondly, it takes away a judge’s ability to decide on the level of damages. For certain injuries that are sustained in Road Traffic Accidents it replaces them with a fixed tariff system, with damages in the region of perhaps 10%-20% of what you might expect to get at court.
This matters, because if a claim is worth less than the Small Claims Limit, you cannot recover your legal costs for it, even if you win. It also matters because the decision about how much your claim is worth is taken away from the judges and reduced to a (reduced) figure on a table. A table not compiled by judges, but by politicians.
In future people injured in Road Traffic Accidents who suffer ‘a sprain, strain, tear or rupture of the muscles, tendons or ligaments of the neck or back’, will essentially never be entitled to instruct their own solicitor and recover the costs. Instead, at best, they will, if they win, receive the tariff amount from the insurers and this is after going head to head themselves with the insurance company lawyers get it.
The Small Claims Limit for the accident will be £5,000, and so you won’t be able to claim your costs back for any whiplash injury which is worth less than £5,000. The tariff tells you what these injuries are ‘worth’, and it is in the hundred, not thousands, of pounds. And if you’ve had to take time off work, or have had to buy medication or medical aids, or employ help around the house, then you can claim these back, but only if they amount to £10,000 or more!
Effectively this is removing the right to claim damages for a certain type of injury, and the effects it has had, something that has never happened before.
You might say ‘whiplash is only a stiff back! People should get on with it!’ and you wouldn’t be alone. I’d also guess you’d never had one of these road accidents. In my experience, how much effect a neck sprain or a torn muscle in your back has on you, depends on the work you do, or the life you live. If you spend all day at a desk, like a solicitor or insurer or a politician, maybe you can struggle through, and that’s your prerogative. If you are a cleaner, or a plumber or a nurse, it is a very different. How about if you have young children, or care for a disabled person? How about if you like to play rugby or play with the grandkids? And how about if this sprain or tear goes on not for a fortnight, but for months or years?
What’s the trade off? The insurance industry has said that they will reduce insurance premiums for drivers, but of course they have. Insurance companies have saved millions in the five years since the last set of reforms to this area of law. I haven’t noticed my premium coming down.
These unnoticed reforms come into effect in April 2020.