Posted by Rosie Hodgetts, Associate
What you need to know about the Civil Liability Bill – an assault on injured people’s access to justice
The legal landscape is evolving as a direct result of our Government’s legal reforms. Further changes, although currently delayed, are on the horizon for Personal Injury law, but the implications will be felt by many. These changes will be disastrous, and the public’s path to justice will not be an easy one.
The Civil Liability Bill is, to all intents and purposes, an assault on the honest man who through no fault of his own has been injured. Our Government has stated its purpose is to reduce fraudulent whiplash claims, reduce insurance premiums, and extinguish a misguided belief that our society has a compensation culture. However, it is increasingly clear it was only to ensure that individuals will be placed at a huge disadvantage compared to insurers, as they try to navigate their legal claim without an understanding of the processes or Civil Procedural Rules that govern it.
What is the Civil Liability Bill?
The Civil Liability Bill has focused on whiplash injuries. Section 1(1) has defined a ‘whiplash in jury’ as “an injury, or set of injuries, of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder that is of a description specified in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor”. Although a further definition is to be provided within the regulations, members of APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) have stressed the need to have this definition decided on by medical professionals. As well as removing the reference to ‘back or shoulder’ as this further narrows the definition.
The new Bill has clearly identified that injuries suffered by motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists will not come within the remit of this Bill. However, further planned increases in the small claims limit for personal injury will look to include these areas.
How will the small claims limit change?
The government plans to increase the small claims limit for Road Traffic Accident (RTA) cases from £1,000 to £5,000.
A previously published report by the Justice Select Committee has strongly criticised the recommended increase, arguing it is disproportionate and will prevent honest injured parties from pursuing claims. Instead, the Justice Select Committee has recommended that the small claims value should increase in relation to inflation to a more modest figure of £1,500.
How will this change things?
The combination of the rise in small claims limit and the Civil Liability Bill will make bringing a whiplash claim much less accessible or attractive for members of the public.
In the vast majority of cases, claimants will have to follow the small claims procedure, often their first experience of the legal process. Each claimant has the right to pay for a solicitor if they want one, however their legal fees must be paid out of their limited damage award.
The government is misguided in assuming people can handle such cases themselves.
When we look specifically at the impact on the litigant in person, the idea that individuals, if their claim is not worth more than £5,000, will have an option to represent themselves is disastrous. For, often, the pain and trauma of the accident will deter the victim from pursuing a claim, where previously they would have instructed a solicitor so as to prevent any further stress. This means individuals who have suffered an injury through no fault of their own will not be fairly compensated.
The Law Society, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and Motor Accidents Solicitors Society have voiced strong concerns that the Bill will unreasonably restrict access to justice. Further questions have also been raised as to whether we can have faith in the insurance sector to pass on any financial benefits to consumers post-Bill.
It should not be for the government to implement this cap to drive out fraudulent claims. It should in fact be for the insurance companies to whittle out the fraudulent claims, so as to protect the majority of honest victims looking for justice.
The insurance sector has welcomed this new Bill, having successfully lobbied for such change under the guise of stamping out fraudulent claims.
The Ministry of Justice argues that this clampdown on whiplash claims will enable the insurers to cut drivers premiums, which may save individuals as much as £35 on average. Considering the average cost of filling your car fuel tank, £35 is not going to make a huge difference to your financial security. However instructing a solicitor to fight your claim for compensation may well lead you to having financial peace of mind.
We shall wait with baited breath to see if insurers reduce their premiums in anticipation of the new Bill, though we certainly won’t be holding it…
If you have any questions for our personal injury team about making a claim for compensation, get in touch with them today.
0800 923 2068 Email us