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24 February 2017

Pay the rich more compensation! They need it to soothe their pain

5 mins

An anonymous comment I came across on the Law Society Gazette website read:

“Realistically, why should people be entitled to receive compensation at all for relatively minor injuries? They may be annoying and unpleasant, but so what? They don’t have any long term effects and I would take the view that they should just be accepted as part of life… I’m in the fortunate position of being well off… If damages are genuinely supposed to be compensatory then logically they should be linked to one’s wealth. So someone on benefits who had a whiplash injury might receive £250, whereas someone in my position should receive £25,000. After all, we’ve both suffered the same amount of pain, but in order to soothe my pain I theoretically need far more than a poor person to achieve the same level of relief. “

Come again? This bizarre and contradictory comment was posted at 12.23pm on the 23rd February on the Law Society Gazette website in response to an article about disproportionate costs and solicitors fees. It’s funny that the writer should appeal to logic and then immediately follow up with the least sound rationale I have probably ever read.

It is depressing to constantly read unimaginative comments about this non-existent ‘compensation culture’. It’s depressing when individuals who are injured and have had their lives derailed are publically lambasted and told to “accept it as part of life”. They are made to feel ashamed for claiming compensation when actually, the accident would never have happened if the other driver hadn’t been drink driving, texting on the motorway, driving without a licence, trying to show off and race another car. You get my point.

Why are claimants always told to just shut up and get on with their lives despite being seriously injured through someone else’s carelessness?

The only interesting part about the comment above is that, there is in fact some truth to it. Compensation for injury is made up of two parts; ‘general damages’ and ‘special damages’.

General damages will try to compensate for the pain and suffering you felt because of the injury. The amount you receive depends on how badly injured you are, how long it will take you to recover, whether you have developed a psychiatric condition and how long you are unable to work. The amount for pain and suffering will never, thankfully, be determined by how wealthy you are.

However, “special damages” can and is often linked to the individual’s financial position before the accident. Special damages are the specific and measurable losses which the injured person suffers as a result of the accident. Think medication costs, treatments costs, care and assistance, etc.

Often, the biggest part of compensation is made up of loss of earnings, i.e. were you off work because of this accident? Let’s compare a wealthy CEO earning £200,000 a year with a poor unemployed student earning nothing. Although their general damages might be the same, their special damages could be wildly different.

Here are some examples of general damages, which would be the same regardless of who you are and how much money you earn:

  • If you’ve fractured your leg the general damages element is likely to be £5,000 or less.
  • If you’ve fractured your ankle and get better within a year, the general damages element is likely to be £5,000 or less.
  • If you’ve developed a hernia which can possibly be repaired, the general damages element is likely to be £5,000 or less.

These aren’t “nothing” injuries.

Recent changes to the law mean that from October 2018 onwards, if you are injured in a car accident and the claim is worth £5,000 or less, it will be considered a small claim and the reality is that it will be extremely difficult to find a lawyer to do this type of work.

In the above example the wealthy CEO with a broken leg may be off work for 3-4 months in this “low value” road traffic accident scenario. Their claim will exceed the £5,000 threshold. The student will also be at home recovering for the same amount of time, but the monetary loss isn’t there and so the special damages obtained would reflect this. One will find it easy to get a good, specialist lawyer to help with a personal injury claim, as the lawyer will recover their fees from the Defendant if successful. The other will find it impossible, as costs will not be awarded to a lawyer if they win a case which has been allocated to the small claims court.

We are told by the government that ‘we are all in this together’. But there has now been a sea of change. If you are too old to work, or too disabled, a single parent or a child, if you are ‘just about managing’ you will no longer get the same access to justice as the highly paid. So who should we rage against? The innocent accident victim or a government which puts the interests of insurance companies and their shareholders ahead of the more vulnerable in society.    

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