Fighting for drivers’ rights to compensation

Along with lawyers across the country, Hutchinson Thomas is fighting to ensure that individuals involved in car accidents will get a fair chance at compensation.

Despite it not being common knowledge, just around the corner in April 2019, the law is set to change so that many people who would previously have received money following an accident, may well receive nothing.

At present, the compensation awarded following a traffic accident is decided by investigations into the accident with any resulting compensation pay-out decided separately.

However, if the Civil Liability Bill comes into place next year, there will be fixed limits on compensation from traffic accidents that result in soft tissue injuries. This includes whiplash, one of the most common resulting injuries from a road traffic accident, and one which the NHS describes as severe and sometimes taking up to a year to recover from.

Alongside this, the small claims limit for road accidents will change from £1,000 to £5,000. So, while at the moment cases for compensation under £5,000 can be resolved in a relatively straight forward way (the claimant hires a solicitor and the case is then resolved through the insurance company), in future all such cases over £1,000 (and less than £5,000) which are contested, will need to go to the small claims court.

And as winners in the small claims court are not eligible to claim back their legal costs from the defendants (the insurance companies), it simply doesn’t make financial sense for lawyers to go to court on such cases. This will mean that many will go to the small claims court without legal representation, finding themselves up against the opposition of seasoned insurance lawyers – not a fair battle.

Claimants also won’t be given any dispensation for this lack of balance if a recent Supreme Court case, Barton v Wright Hassall is anything to go by. In this case, a claimant without legal representation, Mark Barton, emailed a claim form without realising that this was not correct procedure.

Despite Barton’s lack of awareness, his plea was rejected with the judge saying that it was ‘reasonable to expect a litigant in person to familiarise himself with the rules which apply to any step which he is about to take.’

The Government’s justification for the changes are that they are in response to what it has assumed to be a ‘compensation culture,’ where cases such as fake whiplash claims are made, pushing up the cost of motor insurance. However, despite this perception, often perpetuated by the media, there is no real evidence that this phenomenon exists.

Furthermore, the Chancellor has promised that the changes would cut £1b from the cost of motor insurance, yet this means little for the individual. Present calculations reveal that drivers would see an annual reduction of £35 from their motor insurance; in exchange for which they would see their rights and access to justice disappear.

When you add to this the fact the insurance industry has recently offered to fund the proposed court portal, (thereby being both perceived judge and jury) it seems as if the balance of fairness is increasingly stacked up against the individual.