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Forcing Victims to Use Small Claims Court Will “Cripple” Access to Justice

December 13, 2012

LONDON, December 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ –

New plans to force an increasing number of personal injury victims to use the small
claims court could cripple access to justice for vulnerable people, according to Karl
Tonks, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.

Karl, who is a partner with Fentons Personal Injury Solicitors
[http://www.fentons.co.uk ] LLP, was speaking after the Government announced proposals to
raise the value of whiplash or general road accident claims
[http://www.fentons.co.uk/road-accident-claims ] to be heard in the small claims court from
GBP1,000 to GBP5,000.

“The small claims court is designed for people to represent themselves, which may well
work in disputes about faulty goods and services, but it won’t help the hundreds of
thousands of people who have serious and genuine injuries following road accidents,” said
Karl.

The proposals were made as part of the Ministry of Justice’s consultation Reducing the
Number and Costs of Whiplash Claims. But Karl said such a move would leave uninformed and
vulnerable people at the mercy of defendants and insurance companies who know exactly how
to exploit injured people by settling cases for less than they are worth.

“On top of that, even to begin to make a claim, an injured claimant needs to be able
to put a value on the nature of their injuries, but independent research* has found that -
in the case of a whiplash or soft tissue injury, for example – as many as 70 per cent of
people would not know how much to claim,” he said.

“Defendants and their insurance companies, on the other hand, will know exactly how
much a claim is worth and it is the duty of insurance companies to look after their
shareholders, not injured people.”

Karl said that getting fair and just compensation will become an even greater uphill
battle, with many people simply being put off from even trying.

“The Government has been persuaded by the insurance industry that these proposals will
deal with what is perceived to be a problem with whiplash cases,” he said. “But this move
will instead hit completely the wrong target.

“Its own figures show that whiplash claims fell by around 24,000 last year.
Independent research has found that only one in 100 people had a whiplash injury in the
past year, and of those who have ever had a whiplash injury, almost 40 per cent have never
claimed compensation for it.”

Karl said one injury victim, 71-year-old Ann Cooper, was one example of the 20 per
cent of whiplash sufferers whose symptoms have lasted more than a year and whose life has
been severely disrupted as a result.

Mrs Cooper’s car was hit at low speed by a 4×4 near her home in Worcestershire, last
spring. She suffered more than 12 months of neck and lower back pain and restricted
mobility, as well as nine months of psychological symptoms in the form of fear of travel
and gastrointestinal disorders (IBS) from stress. She calls whiplash “the silent injury”.

Mrs Cooper had previously led an active lifestyle in her retirement, regularly
swimming 40 lengths of her local pool, as well as hill-walking and practising yoga. “A
person who has internal, unseen injuries could suffer more than someone with something as
obvious as a broken leg,” she said. “Just because it can’t be seen doesn’t make it any
less painful.

“I’ve always been active and an independent woman,” she said. “But all of a sudden I
was reduced to this wreck.” Mrs Cooper is still receiving physiotherapy for her injuries.

Karl said that people like Mrs Cooper were not the problem, yet she is a perfect
example of the kind of vulnerable person who could be forced into the small claims court
under the Government’s new proposals.

“The people who suffer these injuries are genuine,” he said. “Honest claimants are not
the problem – the problem is fraud, and fraud must be tackled by all sides working
together if we are going to eliminate it.

“But this proposal will do nothing to stop that. That is why APIL has developed a
10-point plan for tackling fraud which addresses some of the real problems in the system,
without undermining the right of people with genuine injuries to claim the compensation
they need.”

*Independent survey of 4,000 people conducted by Canadean Consumer research, via its
online omnibus panel between June and August 2012

SOURCE Fentons


Source: PR Newswire