One injury solicitor falls flat while another soars

Industry news roundup: week ended 9 Dec 2013:

Sometimes the accident claims community responds well to a personal injury solicitor. Other times, not so much.

That’s exactly what happened this week, as one injury lawyer with lofty goals so his dream of forging an advertising campaign that could ally some 90 solicitor firms together in a claims-sharing scheme that would have supposedly been a benefit to all its members. Porters law firm Paul Roberts had the bright idea to create a vast network throughout both England and Wales, but the man’s brainchild died before it could be even born as other firms throughout the UK were a bit skeptical on whether the whole thing would work – now the whole scheme has been scaled back to just the North West, where Porters does the lion’s share of its personal injury claims work. So much for that idea!

Meanwhile the industry was also buzzing this week how a Scotland-based personal injury solicitor firm has been experiencing an amazing, record-breaking year. Digby Brown LLP saw its turnover increase by more than 11 per cent to just under £20 million. On top of that, Digby Brown said its net profits had hit £6.6 million – an increase of 8.2 per cent.

Apparently whatever Digby Brown is doing north of the border, it looks like Porters should be taking notes. There wouldn’t be any need for these hare-brained advert campaign schemes. Honestly, why bother spending all your time and money building some massive, highly untenable network of solicitors across most of the UK when there’s an obviously well-run law firm just to the north that doesn’t need to go in for any of that bollocks?

Then again let’s keep aware that there are some subtle but real differences between Scottish personal injury law and the laws as they stand in England and Wales. It changes the whole landscape, and it might make it easier for Scottish law firms to rake in the dosh while a law firm in the North West of England feels the need to invent some bizarre claims-sharing scheme in order to maximise their profit margins. Still seems a bit odd to me, but then again I’m not exactly a lawyer now am I?

Work-related stress can cause illness and injury as well

While falls from height and other industrial accidents at work can be incredibly debilitating, many people discount the impact that repeated exposure to work-related stress can have on an employee – injury and illness can be caused by emotional and mental turmoil as easily as a slip and trip, and can be just as painful.

The Health and Safety Commission and the TUC say that nearly half of the 30 million days lost to work-related injuries or illnesses in 2011 can be attributed to depression, anxiety, or stress, with a grand total of 13.4 million missed days of work.  The amount of workers that have reported to suffer from work-related stress has grown by double over the last ten years, with the number of new cases being reported last year reaching 265,000.

It’s not just ‘high risk’ industries or roles that work-related stress rears its ugly head in the UK, and while a certain level of stress may actually be beneficial -such as the stress experienced when working to a tight deadline or starting a new job – the increase in productivity caused by certain levels of stress peaks very quickly.  Once the physiological and emotional costs reach the point of no return, it’s a short, terrifying ride to rock-bottom for all too many workers in the UK.

Harassment or bullying at work is one of the newest issues that have begun to arise, most often triggered by a senior staff member employing ‘tough love’ management tactics.  The irony of this is that these managers are often victims of excessive stress due to the amount of pressure they are constantly under to deliver better results with less resources – with the current economic environment being what it is, this has only gotten even worse lately.

A TUC survey undertaken earlier in 2012 found that as many as five million workers could be bullied while on the job.  Nearly one out of every four TUC help line calls dealt with workplace bullying allegations, with the bully being the line manager of the victim 83 per cent of the time.

Birmingham City Council spends £5m on work accident claims

Birmingham City Council has spent nearly £5 million in personal injury compensation after five years’ worth of successful work accident claims were made against it, industry experts recently reported.

According to a recent freedom of information request made by the Birmingham Post newspaper, the local authority has made £4.9 million in compensation payments since 2006 for accident claims including asbestos exposure, slips and trips, and injuries brought about by a lack of staff training.  Noteworthy claims reported by the newspaper include one employee receiving a £1,750 compensation award following his injury from a collapsing toilet seat and the £36,000 in compensation paid out in an asbestos exposure incident.

There were several instances of compensation of £10,000 or more, according to the information received by the newspaper.  The injuries of one employee suffering from hand arm vibration syndrome earned him nearly £11,000, while another employee who was struck by a falling object was awarded a £15,000 payment from the local authority for the damage the object caused.

One council spokesman commented on the figures, remarking that over the period of time concerned the council had nearly 48,000 people in its employ.  The average number of claims the local authority handled on a yearly basis was around 100, the spokesman also said, adding that Birmingham City Council felt that it could take pride in its health and safety management strategy not just within the council itself but in the community at large as well.

Whenever an accident occurred, the circumstances leading to the incident were reviewed carefully, with any needed revisions to safety procedures taking place as quickly as possible, the spokesman added.

Government told to not abandon those needing to make claims

The government was recently told not to abandon those Brits needing to make accident claims by the incoming president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers at the APIL’s annual conference, experts say.

Incoming APIL president, Karl Tonks, stated that it is the legal system’s duty to provide fair recompense to those in genuine need and who are deserving of a personal injury compensation payout.  The current system is in dire need of reform, Mr Tonks said, as he indicated that under civil litigation rules as they stand presently, injured parties face unreasonably long wait times to receive funds desperately needed because insurers have the ability to contest personal injury claims before a costly trial, which incurs unnecessarily high legal costs.

Mr Tonks called for more support to be given to the injured at the same time as the government announced its plans to tighten its grip on false motor injury cases which drive up the costs of car insurance premiums.  Insurers say that they are drowning in a sea of their own costs because of increases in both the volume of motor injury accident claims and the amount of compensation awarded to those injured as a result, and that they have no choice but to recover these costs by charging their customers ever higher premiums year after year.

Insurers point the finger not only at fraudulent claims made by scammers and criminals but also at ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers that encourage spurious claims in order to line their pockets with success fees.

Are politicians simply targeting no win no fee lawyers?

Some industry experts say that politicians may be seeking the easy way out in blaming no win no fee lawyers for social issues because it is easier to pass the blame than it is to accept it and work towards suitable solutions.

There is a long history of targeting personal injury lawyers for the nation’s legal woes, and many legal experts say that when ministers point the finger at legal professionals for creating a ‘compensation culture’ that is crippling the nation’s insurance providers through high legal costs associated with accident claims, they conveniently neglect to point out that insurers do much to bring about the situation as well.  The truth of the matter is that many claimants would not be able to afford to take legal advice without no win no fee lawyers willing to forego payment until the case is successful, especially if the new legal aid bill working its way once more through the Commons emerges with its funding cuts intact.

Insurers, many legal experts say, are much more responsible for the current situation than is let on, as the practice of selling on the personal details of their customers to law firms, which these insurers euphemistically refer to as ‘charging referral fees,’ encourages the legal community to pursue policyholders that may have viable claims after being involved in traffic collisions through no fault of their own.  The rationale of an insurance provider who participates in taking referral fees is that their customers are bringing suit against rival insurers, thus increasing costs for the competition, but seem to suffer from a lack of realisation that their rivals are doing the same thing back to them, leading to a vicious cycle that is more harmful than it is beneficial.

Lib Dems prepare for fight over legal aid bill

The Liberal Democrats are preparing for a fight over the newest iteration of the legal aid bill returning to the Commons tomorrow, as activists, celebrities, and charities have all come together to urge Lib Dem MPs to oppose the bill due to proposed funding cuts that could see too many left with no ability to bring accident claims.

The House of Lords savaged the bill in the last review, forcing 11 amendments into the bill.  Despite the attempts to make personal injury claims available to those who could not afford to do so otherwise, fears that the government will force the bill through and simply ignore the Lords is running high.

Government officials are insistent that the changes need to be made, as legal aid bills for the country have spiraled out of control in both England and Wales.  However, a Law Society-organised campaign called Sound Off For Justice has stated that if the amendments made by the Lords are rejected, the bill will institute serious limitations to the legal aid to be made available for work accident claims involving asbestos-related illness or for domestic violence claimants, while the Children’s Society says that advice or representation will be denied to 6,000 children in cases concerning immigration, welfare, and education.

The Children’s Society’s policy adviser, Ilona Pinter, stated that the Government has a responsibility to recognise that there are fundamental differences between adults and children, and that the UK legal system is simply too complex for children to navigate without the help of legal aid.  Cutting funding will deny these children their access to justice, Ms Pinter added, pointing out that doing so will undermine their human rights in a fundamental way.

ABI calls for action to free firms from compensation culture

Businesses in the UK need to be freed from crippling fears of being subject to expensive personal injury compensation cases, the Association of British Insurers recently said.

The so-called ‘compensation culture’ in the UK has led to massive legal costs from accident claims, with new research indicating that compensation payments made to claimants are nearly identical to the legal fees incurred by legal professionals.  ABI data indicates that 93p in legal fees is paid out by businesses and insurers for every £1 paid out in personal injury claims settlement payments to victims of accidents such as ‘slip and trip’ claims, with the industry body adding that costs have risen to the point where one large supermarket chain remarked how it took the revenue of five of its stores an entire year to pay for its court costs.

The ABI’s statements come as the Government makes the announcement that there will soon be a new system introduced to deal with personal injuries occurring at work or public liability claims made against local authorities.  The new system, which has been adopted in large part from recommendations made by Lord Justice Jackson after his independent review last year, will expedite payments made to claimants with genuine claims in an effort to make the entire process more cost effective and efficient.

The ABI, while supportive of these efforts, wants to see even more done in order to safeguard businesses and insurance firms from harmful legal fees.  Massive court costs have been flagged as responsible for rising premium costs in the car insurance sector, as firms need to recover their costs from their customer base in order to remain solvent.

David Cameron draws fire for health and safety comments

Prime Minister David Cameron has drawn fire from the personal injury compensation sector for his statements calling health and safety legislation a burden on business in the UK, where he referred to the legislation as ‘an albatross around the neck.’

The Prime Minister said at a recent business summit in Berkshire that entrepreneurs have been left living in fear of speculative work accident claims due to massive court costs and legal fees.  Mr Cameron indicated that he wants 2012 to be the year that this changes, as he wants to eliminate ‘this pointless time-wasting’ from life in the UK permanently.

However, the Personal Injury Lawyers‘ Association’s president, David Bott, countered that he has serious concerns that the Government may be acting too hastily in changing the current system without due levels of concern for those currently involved in accident claims.  Changing the current system would be dangerous in that workers could risk exposure to unnecessary levels of injury-related risk, only to be left in a situation where the legal system would deny them their access to justice, Mr Bott said.

While the Prime Minister has made promises to aid business growth by killing off the ‘damaging health and safety culture’ in the UK, Mr Bott said a better way to do this was not to water down rules put in place to protect workers, but to instill confidence in businesses who take reasonable steps to prevent needless injuries whilst on the job.  Businesses should not spend time in fear of legal costs but instead for the welfare of their staff, the APIL president added.

Accident claims against local authority cost £1.2m in 2011

Accident claims made against one local authority cost it nearly £1.2 million on personal injury compensation and legal fees over the course of 2011, according to a recent newspaper article.

Personal injury claims against the West Sussex County Council resulted in a £1,193,103 legal bill for the council’s insurers after members of the pubic and council employees alike pursed legal action, says the East Grinstead Courier and Observer.  The newspaper said that a total of 78 claims for compensation were made against the local authority last year, with 72 of these resulting in judgments against the council.

One of the more notable cases that occurred in 2011 was when £45,151 in damages was awarded to a member of the public who suffered a broken leg after falling into a building work trench. In another instance, more than £57,000 in compensation was awarded to another individual who slipped on a wet toilet floor, breaking both of their wrists in the process.

A large number of the claims had been for slips and trips, with many suffering injuries on pavements that the council had responsibility to maintain.  One such trip and fall led to a £53,566 award paid out to someone who suffered both a broken arm and shoulder, experts say.

When approached for comment regarding the compensation payout figures, one West Sussex County Council representative told the newspaper that each and every claim is investigated as thoroughly as possible.  A claim is only settled by the council in the event that the local authority is demonstrated to have been negligent, the spokesperson also said.

Bereaved mother settles medical negligence claim

The bereaved mother of a deceased child recently settled her medical negligence claim against the hospital that caused the death of her newborn son, personal injury compensation experts recently reported.

29 year old Sarah Wallace brought her medical negligence claim on the grounds that her son was given improper treatment following his birth three years ago.  Hospital staff had neglected to follow procedures that could have aided her child survive, according to Mrs Wallace’s accident claims.

The NHS Trust for the hospital remarked that the circumstances surrounding the death of the child were regrettable.  Mrs Wallace’s pregnancy had been a difficult one after being diagnosed with placenta previa, a condition where her placenta lied lower than it normally should, and one that necessitated her son, Harry, to be born eight weeks ahead of schedule in September of 2009.

Harry, who weighed less than 4lbs after his emergency Cesarean delivery, was rushed to the Special Care Baby Unit immediately, but neither of his parents were informed that the child was encountering difficulties.  Mrs Wallace claims that she ‘was kept in the dark’ by hospital staff, and that if she had any idea that baby Harry was close to death, she and her husband Scott would have moved mountains to be there for him.

Instead, the child died with his parents never seeing him, with Mrs Wallace’s solicitors claiming that the newborn’s death may have been caused by hospital staff neglecting to follow proper procedures for placing the child on respiratory support and failing to institute an urgent transfer to a Leeds specialist unit.