Why holiday cover is about more than Factor 30

Recent Thomas Cook headlines surrounding the death of two young children in Corfu nine years ago have made grim reading. That image of the dilapidated boiler that leaked the carbon monoxide that overcame Christi and Bobby Shepherd in 2006 accompanying the media coverage? It’s a stark reminder that what we class as acceptable in the UK often misses the mark abroad.

As a result of such evidence, the Coroner’s Court in Wakefield ruled that the seven and six-year old children were unlawfully killed. Moreover, that the holiday firm had breached their duty of care.

CPS to re-examine the evidence

Although a Greek court acquitted Thomas Cook of any responsibility for the deaths in 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service is going to re-examine the evidence. Thomas Cook has stated that, with this verdict, a cross-examination was expected and that the firm will support any new examination.

Given the revelations on Watchdog last week, detailing the continued lack of care and attention Thomas Cook showed the grieving family after the event, that support may smack of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The Greek court did make a conviction in this case. The manager of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel and two of the staff were convicted of manslaughter (via negligence).

However, it does beg the question:

who is responsible for your safety on a package holiday?

Providing you book through an accredited travel agent, the airline will cover you for all international flights. It’s not something they offer as a courtesy. There’s a statute in place that covers all international air travel: The Montreal Convention (1999).

For the vast majority of conceivable injuries, whether you’re actually in the air or grounded, The Convention covers passengers’ safety.

There’s a reason we say “provided you’ve booked through an accredited travel agent”. That’s because it’s they who have a Duty of Care for your travelling party, including luggage. Should mishaps occur, they’ll set about organising any compensation due, for which they themselves will be covered.

The travel operator’s Duty of Care doesn’t end when you disembark your flight. They accept responsibility for your welfare for the duration of your vacation.

Self-booking/Extreme Sports Vacations

Many people nowadays book their own flights and hotel accommodation. As such, you’re appointing yourself as your own tour operator, to a certain extent. Therefore it’s imperative you take out appropriate insurance to cover you for your time abroad.

For those who like whitewater rafting, snowboarding, ski-jumping – anything active that may incur greater risk – you should take out specialist insurance. As there’s greater risk of personal injury, so the cost of cover rises.

For now, we’ve got the NHS just a phone call away should anything go wrong at home. Most countries do not have such a health service, nor are they obliged to speak English.

Yes, the travel operator is ultimately responsible for your safety. But that doesn’t mean you should take everything for granted. Most of us only get one vacation a year. Don’t let an accident abroad ruin it for you.

Clinical Negligence Claims could be first Casualty of Higher Fees

Since Spring, there’s been a change to the way fees are calculated in civil court cases. Any claims brought in excess of £10,000 are subject to issue fees of 5% of the claim amount. This amount can in itself rise to £10,000, at which point it’s capped regardless of the size of claim thereafter.

The Law Society sees the increase in fees, imposed by the government on March 15th, as a barrier to justice for many. Not just for law firms. Many civilians with bona fide claims could see their case rejected because of how much capital a law firm already has tied up in its ongoing cases.

Legal Aid Truncation + Increased Fees = Less Access for All

Two years ago, changes to Legal Aid meant that access to representation for those who’d suffered at the hands of medicine became limited. The new changes may add further barriers to justice, as the increased issue fees put more duress on law firms’ finances.

Large clinical cases may now mean law firms having to lay out up to £10,000 to bring them to court. As medical claims can stretch back years and take an age to get through court, many fall into this high-value bracket.

If negligence is in doubt, or the defendant denies blame in order to test a claimant’s mettle (or pockets), law firms may be put off from taking cases on.

Even if they did take all cases on without question, there’s still a problem. Because of the new rules, lawyers could see swathes of capital tied up in existing court cases for indefinite periods. This will affect their cash flow and willingness to take on certain cases.

For smaller firms, the new legislation could take them beyond their business model. Possessing only the capacity to fund smaller claims, they may decide the claim business is simply not worth the hassle.

Funding your own claim just got harder, too

It’s not all about the injustice to solicitors. Under the previous rules, a percentage of claimants were able to fund their own fees.

As an example, a fee of 5% for a £200,000 claim is the maximum £10,000 cap. Before March of this year, associated fees for that size claim would have been a little over £1,500.

If a firm was unwilling to pay the fees for whatever reason, but the claimant could fund their case, £1,500 was not such a stretch. But to expect a member of the public to find £10,000 against this economy?

Perhaps only 5% of the populace could lay their hands on that type of cash to fight for justice without suffering financially if the result didn’t go their way. If ATE insurance was unattainable, that’s 95% of the UK left unable to fund a large medical negligence case if their criteria didn’t overcome the stringent Legal Aid hurdles.

If you fire enough shots, you’re bound to hit your target

Perhaps the move by the government, which applies to the whole legal section, is intended to make law firms think twice about the cases take on. Maybe it is intended to clamp down on the spurious soft tissue and whiplash accident claims.

But is strafing the field and destroying the crop just because there’s a weevil in there somewhere the right way to go? The government must acknowledge that the higher fees rule is barring access to justice for those who deserve it and must seek to correct it.

Is it worth jeopardising the lives of people who’ve already suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to make them well just to catch out charlatans who’d otherwise think twice about making a claim?

Social media evidence: slipshod irreverence or irrelevant snapshots?

The concept of insurers defending injury claims using social media evidence is not new. After all, the online public domain is like any other recorded medium for stalking monitoring, well, the public. It’s getting social ‘evidence’ to stick that’s always been the sticking point.

The lines blur between what’s considered private and public, thus what’s admissible as evidence. Also, questions arise about what we share via our public profile(s).

Do our facebook status updates reflect what’s going on in our offline life? Or is what we share a sham, keeping up a misguided pretence for those we would impress?

Vanity is becoming a nuisance, I can see why women give it up…

It could well be that our vanity is our own undoing. Not only in court, but IRL, too.

For instance, when we share that shot from the racecourse when we were supposedly ‘ill’. To our friends and family, even some tolerant bosses, these instances are mere faux pas. Yes, you looked so ill as you collected on that 33/1 outsider that came in for you at Cheltenham. Mm, or not.

But what about when a judge or jury has to preside over such evidence? Should they take what they see literally? If someone’s smiling in a recent shot, then all must be good in their world, right?

The Camera Never Lies – or does it?

In the past, social media evidence hasn’t held much sway with judges. First, council has to prove potential relevance to a judge before they’ll order its use if it’s not in the public domain. Then the court has to prove that the content extracted is a true reflection of the plaintiff/defendant’s lifestyle for the qualifying period.

In countless cases, judges have dismissed the use of social media. Yes, individual shots may be posted to ‘[keep] up appearances’. But like the age old swan, the grace on the surface may not reflect any submerged turmoil.

In Canada, there has been a development, though. And it will serve as a warning for anyone making a claim who continues to use social, in this case facebook, whilst they’re ‘suffering’.

The case of Sarah Tombasso: consistently inconsistent

Sarah Tambosso purported herself as a once happy-go-lucky individual. In 2008, she was involved in the first of two car accidents that she used to build up her case for damages. The undisclosed amount was said to be in the region of ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’.

Her second car accident, in 2010, only served to aggravate the conditions from her previous collision. The conditions cited were PTSD and depression.

The result, according to her council, was that she’d turned into a ‘homebody’. Gone was the social butterfly she once was, the internet now the only engagement she had with friends. Moreover, she related to her psychiatrist that,

“I’m not a happy person. My life sucks.”

Not what the doctor ordered

The evidence gathered, however, portrayed a different lifestyle. As well as almost 200 pages from Tambosso’s facebook account, video surveillance was also submitted to the court to disprove her claim.

The defence gathered all manner of social activity as evidence. Partying, days out with friends, having a pop at karaoke; her facebook page was a trail of contradiction.

And that’s how the judge eventually ruled. There was so little consistency with the conditions she claimed the car accidents had instigated that the judge only awarded $36,000.

The case has gone to appeal. But as social becomes an ever greater part of our lives, we must consider the image our public self portrays. The cost of not doing so, as Tombasso discovered, could be very high.

Crash-for-Cash scam busted; Direct Line chasing £600k fraud case

One of the most elaborate ‘crash for cash’ scams uncovered by insurers has been derailed this week. In total, claims could have risen to £1.3M had all been paid out.

But Chester CID apprehended John Christopher Smith, MD of Swift Accident Solutions, before all of the 218 referrals received compensation.

Smith, of North Wales, is now beginning a six-and-a-half year jail sentence as the orchestrator of the scam. In all, Judge Andrew Blake convicted another 13 people for their part.

First Direct suspicious of similarity

First Direct first noticed a pattern when investigating a series of incidents involving First Group buses in and around Chester. The similarity was striking, and it was this similarity that drew suspicion.

In all, there were seven staged ‘crashes’. Drivers of vans or cars would wait for a scheduled bus to pull out then gently bump into it. The incidents happened at low speed and the driver of the van or car would admit liability.

How did that work, then? The ingenious part of the scam was that people on the bus itself were in on it. As soon as the collision took place, they would feign their injuries.

Whiplash and soft-tissue injury cited as the cause of injury

Soft tissue and whiplash injuries were the modus operandi. These were the obvious choice as such injuries are difficult to prove.

These scammers informed their GPs that they’d been in a collision and they’d then issue a sick note. The fakers would then take along their doctor’s note with the claim, Smith would refer them and collect the referral fee.

On average, Smith was pocketing around £900 per no-win, no-fee referral. 177 cases in all are adjudged to have been processed in this manner.

During the period that he was running the scam, a little over a year, it’s estimated he grossed £159,000. He was jailed on fraud and conspiracy charges that could have risen to over £1M if they’d gone unchecked.

Rachel Cooper, the last member of the gang to be tried for the scam, escaped a custodial sentence. The 32-year old from Great Sutton escaped with an 18-month suspended sentence.

She did, however, receive an order to undertake 250 hours unpaid work as a repayment of her debt to society.

£600,000 fraud case brought by Direct Line

Elsewhere, Max Clifford is once again in the media for all the wrong reasons. This time, however, it’s not the publicity guru in the dock.

Clifford was filmed in a coffee shop with Kevin Morgan, a former manager from Weybridge, who was himself under surveillance.

Morgan was in a ‘low impact’ accident in 2005. But the injuries he sustained have deteriorated to the extent that he can no longer live a normal life. Both psychiatrist and the original doctor’s statements seem to support Mr Morgan’s defence.

Direct Line, however, still became suspicious. Between 2009-2012, the insurers placed Morgan under surveillance.

On ten of those occasions, he was seen to leave the house. Any signs of the reported spasms in his neck didn’t materialise. Moreover, the prosecution commented that his demeanour in court was completely different to that on film.

Mr Morgan said that he has both good and bad days. It was on one of the good days that he was filmed in the coffee shop with Mr Clifford.

Whole livelihood on the line

Direct Line have now taken Morgan to court to try to claim £600,000 fraud, suggesting that the injuries the victim sustained have been exaggerated.

His defence is arguing that the evidence supports the ex-manager’s claim. Morgan can now only live a ‘retired lifestyle’, a far cry from the handyman he was before the accident occurred.

The limitations are such that Mr Morgan now exists within a 1,350ft radius from around his once ‘immaculate’ home. The meeting in the coffee shop falls within that territory.

Mr Morgan has also spoken out against Direct Line’s heavy-handed approach. He likened his treatment to being ‘on a murder charge’.

Despite the fact that he could lose his home if he’s found guilty of fraud, Morgan insists that he wants this opportunity to clear his name.

MoD awards £709,000 personal injury compensation award

Industry news roundup: week ended 6 April 2015:

Here’s one that’s going to make you question your sanity: the Ministry of Defence just paid out £709,000 in personal injury compensation for a case of bullying.

Now calm down, it’s not ‘just’ bullying in this case. True, this award amount dwarfs some payments made to Armed Forces members that were injured so badly in the line of duty that they came back from Afghanistan or Iraq missing limbs, but the circumstances surrounding the case are tragic.

It turns out that Cpl Anne Marie Ellement, aged 30, took her own life in Wiltshire at Bulford Barracks in 2011 following prolonged and systemic psychological abuse. The deceased corporal suffered from work-related despair and the lingering effects of a rape she had allegedly been subject to, all of which played a role in her suicide, according to a recent inquest. Kind of hard to get all cross with the MoD after that comes to light, doesn’t it?

Still, being injured in the line of duty and seeking compensation isn’t like making a typical work accident claim. The ministry has very strict and perhaps overly-complicated guidelines set down by Parliament. Meanwhile, there have been more and more of these bullying cases as related to the Armed Forces, and the Government announced late last year that there’s going to be an investigation into the matter in order to suss out how allegations of abuse are handled by the MoD.

The impetus for the new watchdog group? Cpl Ellement’s death. I’m hoping that at least the fact that this new watchdog was inspired by this poor woman that found herself driven to suicide could mean that other Armed Forces personnel might be spared the same incredible emotional pain and suffering.

The worst part is that much of this bullying behaviour comes not from the enemy but our own troops. It’s reprehensible, and makes me absolutely ashamed of being British. I absolutely pray that things get better, and that Cpl Ellement’s untimely death turns out to not have happened in vain.

As for the bastards that drove her into this nightmare, don’t even get me started. I’m sure they’ll eventually get deployed somewhere even hotter and more uncomfortable than the desert when they meet their maker and have to answer to their crimes.

Cathedral sues NHS after £130,000 accident claim

Industry news roundup: week ended 30 March 2015:

A £130,000 accident claim has prompted a cathedral to sue the NHS for not properly treating the foot of a worshiper who was injured on church grounds.

So much for ‘turn the other cheek:’ Ripon Cathedral in North Yorkshire has sought to recover some of the £130,000 it paid out to worshiper Christopher Shepherd in a personal injury compensation claim after the man tripped and broke his foot just a few days before Christmas 2008. What looked to be an open-and-shut case of the cathedral being liable for the man’s injury soon blossomed into a major issue after medical negligence caused his foot injury to worsen to the point where Shepherd is now consigned to a wheelchair as he now has the inability to walk more than 100 yards without difficulty.

Ripon Cathedral agreed to pay out on Shepherd’s personal injury claims in 2013, but has since decided to try to recover its costs by bringing suit against the NHS. According to court documents, apparently Shepherd consulted with doctors at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust twice – first on Christmas Eve 2008 and then again on January 13th of the New Year, but was only finally diagnosed properly on March 18th of that year. The cathedral’s personal injury lawyers say that the NHS doctors should be held responsible for not diagnosing Shepherd’s injuries properly causing a delay so long that the injured man needed surgical procedures to fuse the bones of his foot – an act that left him with severely diminished mobility.

Now this, to me, represents a perfect example of medical negligence. The poor bastard made two trips to see NHS doctors and both times he was simply brushed off. Meanwhile his foot simply got worse and worse until he needed the painful, mobility-limiting surgery.  For what it’s worth, the NHS had a serious role in the extent of Shepherd’s injuries and should pay the price.

I’m not saying that the cathedral is off the hook; the initial injury took place on cathedral grounds so there is at least a modicum of liability there. But if Shepherd had gotten the treatment he needed immediately instead of months afterwards, the results would have been much less painful for him – and that would have led to a much smaller legal bill for Ripon Cathedral!


Here we go again with that old compensation culture argument

Industry news roundup: week ended 16 March 2015:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, that old chestnut of ‘compensation culture’ bankrupting insurers has gotten trotted out once more.

If there’s one thing that drives me absolutely barmy it’s listening to insurance providers whinge on and on about how they’re being victimised by everyone. Every once and a while when they don’t feel they’ve gotten enough attention as of late they’ll begin crying about how ‘compensation culture’ is ruining their injury, pointing to increased personal injury claims and greedy, ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers just draining their coffers dry.

The refrain began again this week, with big-time insurer Aviva saying that even though the number of road accidents has gone down by 30 per cent, personal injury claims are up by 62 per cent. Not only that but the insurer said that a full 96 per cent of road traffic accident claims were brought not directly by injured parties but by personal injury lawyers or claims management companies.

Now I need to interrupt right here. Do these insurers really believe they’re fooling anyone with the idea that people legitimately injured in car accidents should be representing themselves? What man or woman in their wildest flights of fancy would be able to sustain a personal injury case against a deep-pocketed insurer like Aviva, especially if the case involves the kinds of injuries that can leave you without the ability to work for weeks or even months?

In a case like that, there’s only one type of person you should be turning to if you’re injured, and it’s a personal injury solicitor. They’re not bloody ambulance chasers simply because they represent people who can’t represent themselevs; yes, they rely on no win no fee agreements to get paid, but that’s because the majority of their claimants don’t have any damned money because they’ve been unable to work for months and they’re just barely squeaking by on savings – or on the largesse of their family members.

Yes, I suppose that insurance fraud is a problem. I’m sure it always will be. But insurers like Aviva, who want to make it harder for the injured to bring lawsuits against them with the aid of a lawyer, are only protecting their own interests at the detriment of others.

Cumbria County Council pays massive accident claims bill

Industry news roundup: week ended 9 March 2015:

Cumbria County Council – already not exactly awash in funds – has had to pay a painfully massive £1.5 million accident claims bill over the last three years.

To make matters worse, the lion’s share of the personal injury claims have been on slips and trips where individuals fell on council roads or footpaths. An eye-watering £1.3 million of the total went to these types of accident claims; luckily some 77 per cent of claims lodged against the local authority didn’t succeed. Can you imagine the total bill if more had?

Still, people are not exactly chuffed about the figure. In fact, James Airey, the council’s Conservative leader, is up in arms about the issue, as he says that the problems that caused all these personal injury compensation cases could have been solved. Airey says that it’s a management issue, as it takes weeks to get pavement problems mended after they’ve been reported – and while he wouldn’t go so far as to call the council dreadful, he did say that the enormous payout could have been used to fill in an awful lot of holes.

Now I really can’t argue with the man, especially when it comes to getting potholes filled. That £1.5 million could have easily been spent on hiring more workers and getting teams out to mend all these massive cracks and potholes that can destroy car tyres and turn ankles. I can’t imagine that it would have taken even a fraction of that payout amount to get everything done.

At the same time, Cumbria County Council isn’t exactly swimming in cash at the moment. It’s not like the payouts come from the council itself – its insurance company ends up footing the bill – but it does mean that the council’s premiums are going to go up. And these fees are paid for out of taxpayer money, so it’s essentially costing local residents even more as they have to pay for the poor maintenance twice over. It’s a wicked, vicious cycle that shows no signs of abating anytime soon – and I just find that a bit depressing, don’t you?

14 years of suffering, £3m in personal injury compensation

Industry news roundup: week ended 23 Feb 2015:

Well it only took 14 years to get what she deserved, but a 24 year old who was injured in a pool accident at the age of 10 finally received her compensation.

It’s stories like this that make me wonder what in the world is wrong with the personal injury claims world. Poor Annie Woodland – she ended up suffering for over a decade as the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted because she nearly died during a school swim session. The long delay, apparently, was due to a dispute between whether Essex Council should be held accountable for her injuries even though she was under the cupervision of a contractor while she attended Gloucester Park Pool in Basildon.

The pool lifeguard didn’t manage to see the 10-year-old Woodland quite in time, managing to fish her out of the water but not before the young pupil suffering life-changing injuries. Now the 24 year old has been awarded some £3 million for her pain and suffering – and for the continuing care she will need since she suffered nearly dying from drowning in the pool, all because both the swim instructor and the lifeguard on duty couldn’t be arsed to keep track of the pupils using the bloody pool.

Still, all’s well that ends well, though the poor woman would most likely give up every last penny if it meant she didn’t have to spend the last 12 years of her life falling behind because of brain injuries related to her nearly fatal drowning. I can’t say that I wouldn’t make the same decision myself. I would much rather be whole and healthy than anything else in the entire world, £3 million be damned!

Of course, now everyone is going to say that this new legal development is going to have a so-called “chilling effect” on local authorities taking pupils on trips if they’re afraid of being held responsible for every little thing that happens on these outings. Well bollocks to that I say – if you’re going to be educating our children you should be responsible for them whenever they’re doing school-related don’t you think? It just sounds like common bloody sense!



Motorbike accident claim leads to £10m compensation award

Industry news roundup: week ended 16 Feb 2015:

A motorcycle accident claim that was made in the wake of a man sustaining crippling injuries has been decided in his favour – to the tune of £10 million or so.

So it may not give Macel Beasley back his full physical function, but the 31 year old can at least live a bit more comfortably after he’s been given the financial wherewithal to actually live his life in the wake of the motorbike accident that changed his life. Beasley, which now needs the use of a wheelchair and requires constant care after he was left with serious brain damage and a serious speech impairment, has just been given a lump sum payment of something like £4.27 million – something he plans to spend on buying a home specially adapted to his needs – and yearly tax-free annual payments of £175,000 to help pay for the 24 hour a day care he can’t survive without.

I’m not going to go into the details surrounding the injuries Beasley sustained. To be completely honest with you it’s rather gruesome – let’s just say that was cut off by a VW Golf and ended up in hospital, in a coma, for two weeks straight before he even woke up. On the way to hospital he was so injured his heart stopped not once, not twice, but three bloody times; it’s an absolute miracle this man is still alive. Long story short – once everyone took a good, long, hard look at the accident, it was decided that the driver of the VW Golf was 100% responsible for the accident. In other words, Beasley got his £10 million compensation package so he can begin to put his life back together, or at least as much as he’ll be able to do now with his permanent and life-changing industries.

Honestly it’s instances like these that break my heart. Sure, Beasley became a millionaire overnight. I can almost guarantee that if you asked him if he would trade every penny of it if he could regain his ability to walk, talk and think unhindered, he would jump at the chance. I know I would – and I’ll wager that you would as well, wouldn’t you?