It’s no surprise to anyone that the amount of criticism that the personal injury claims industry has come under, especially over the past few years as the number of accident claims have rocketed despite a drop in the overall number of accidents – many people blame the proliferation of the ‘no win no fee’ legal claim, but is its advent really to blame for the mess we’re in right now?
Conditional fee arrangements, or no win no fee arrangements, may be rather reviled nowadays, but it’s easy to forget that these fee arrangements were originally developed as an ethical solution to provide access to justice to those who could not afford it otherwise. Completely eliminating conditional fee arrangements would strip away this access to justice for many, leaving only people with the necessary funds to pay expensive legal fees and court costs out of pocket unless they have a good legal insurance policy.
Unfortunately, the legal profession’s less reputable practitioners have been capitalising on no win no fee arrangements by perverting the once-noble intentions behind the legal framework, using it to generate revenue for their law firms instead of ensuring that those who are the most in need of legal representation can access it. Consumers are being enticed to bring spurious claims by these disreputable firms, who then rack up court costs and legal fees that then need to be paid by the defendant if they come down on the losing side.
The legal industry does indeed need reform, but eliminating no win no fee could lead to stripping access to justice from too many. Instead, industry experts have suggested altering the way successful lawyers claim their fees by having them taken out of the claimant’s compensation packages instead of having losing defendants pay out above and beyond in order to cover trumped-up legal charges.
Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke recently announced that those victimised by domestic violence will not lose access to legal aid in order to provide no win no fee lawyers in civil cases they bring against civil partners.
The amendments being made to the legal aid bill, which has proven wildly unpopular because of how scaled back access to justice could be for those who need to rely upon no win no fee arrangements in order to bring personal injury claims against defendants, are ‘formidable’ ones, according to the justice secretary as he announced the concessions the government has agreed to in part. Clarke made an attempt to reach out to the bill’s opponents by lowering the threshold required for proving domestic violence had occurred as MPs continued to debate it after peers struck blow after blow against the measure.
Originally, the government would have male or female domestic violence victims resort to official channels in order to gain access to legal aid for divorce and other civil proceedings, though legal aid would still be made available for all restraining order cases. However, the justice secretary made the announcement that the government would be extending the definition of domestic violence allow victim refuges and GPs to provide evidence, while also extending the time period that domestic violence victims can claim legal aid from one year to two.
Clarke categorised the government’s response as quite generous due to its views concerning the importance of providing support to victims of domestic violence. Those who have been victimised over the past two years will likewise be given a blanket exception, an independent source from the ministry of justice added.
Work accident claim experts recently reported that two workers suffered injuries in a pair of unrelated accidents at a lead smelting works in Derbyshire, leading to two firms facing prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive.
The two injured men, whose names are currently being withheld out of privacy concerns, sustained their injuries whilst on the job at HJ Enthoven Ltd, located near Matlock, in South Darley. According to both workers’ personal injury claims, one suffered severe crush injuries while he was undertaking maintenance on an overhead crane, while the other sustained serious burns in the wake of an explosion.
The explosion was precipitated by the actions of the burned employee, who had been transporting molten lead slag in a pan in a forklift truck. The pan, which was capable of holding slag as hot as 800 degrees Celsius, toppled from the truck, causing a terrific explosion when the molten metal came into contact with water in a nearby drain, and the driver of the forklift truck had been attempting to escape the blast when he fell into the molten led, suffering burns to his upper body and face so severe that necessitated months of specialised therapy and treatment.
The second, unrelated accident occurred when a maintenance engineer, employed by Key Engineering (Chesterfield) Ltd, had his right arm crushed between the control panel of an overhead crane and a roof beam while he was investigating a problem with the crane at the smelting works. The man’s injured arm required four metal plates surgically implanted into it in order to repair the damage it suffered, and he also required several skin grafts to aid in his recovery as well.
Both companies were investigated by the HSE following each incident, with the Government watchdog prosecuting each for breaching Health and Safety protocols.
Work accident claim experts say a carpenter recently lost two of his fingers in a grisly incident on the job in Westminster.
The worker, a twenty two year old man whose identity has not been made public, had been employed by Grand Plans (UK) Ltd, a building contractor based in Tower Hamlets, on the refurbishment project at the time of the incident, according to personal injury claims experts familiar with the story. The young man had been using an unguarded bench-saw at the time of the incident, Marleybone Magistrates’ Court was told, but his hand came into contact with the rotating blade after the piece of wood he had been cutting slipped.
The carpenter lost half of his ring finger and little finger in the incident, having to endure countless surgical procedures in order to repair the damage done to the nerves and fingers in his right hand. The Health and Safety Executive investigated the worker’s injuries, finding evidence that warranted the watchdog to prosecute Grand Plans (UK) Limited for the role it played in the man’s injuries.
The building contractor, who is currently in liquidation and did not attend the hearing, was given a fine of £7,500 at the court hearing following the HSE’s prosecution. Marleybone Magistrates’ Court, which found the company guilty of breaching rules covering the use of work equipment, also ordered Grand Plans to pay a total of £3,881 in legal fees as well.
It would have been a simple measure to add the most basic guards to the bench saw and thus prevent the gruesome injuries sustained by the worker, one HSE representative said after the court decision.
Personal injury compensation cases concerning asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma are the responsibility of the insurer at the initial time of asbestos exposure regardless of the vagaries of an insurance policy’s wording, the Supreme Court recently said, removing years of doubt and uncertainty concerning the issue.
A four-to-one decision saw Supreme Court judges deciding that the practice of triggering employers’ liability personal injury claims at the time of exposure to the deadly fibres just four years after the High Court heard the decidedly complex issue. The practice had been challenged by a small group of insurance providers in provisional liquidation or run-off based on the assumption that specific wording in their employers’ liability contracts calls for a response only at the presentation of symptoms – even though the majority of asbestos-related ailments can sometimes take decades to manifest.
However, such a decision would have left employer policyholders and victims facing gaping holes in their employers’ liability cover, the Supreme Court decided, with judges making a mesothelioma compensation ruling that has already bee referred to as the most influential decision for asbestos liability in the UK of all time. Industry experts said that an estimated hundreds of millions could teeter on the outcome of the case in regards to insurance and reinsurance liability.
The general insurance and health director for the Association of British Insurers, Nick Starling, welcomed the ruling, stating that the ABI had always been in opposition in changing the way mesothelioma-related claims should be paid, agreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision. Insurers could now place systems in place to speed up claims, the ABI also said, with Mr Starling suggesting the introduction of pre-action protocols in order to hold insurers and claimant solicitors to strict timelines.
Work accident claim experts recently reported that a lorry driver from Caerphilly was run over by a forklift truck, leading to the amputation of part of his leg as a result of the incident.
According to information passed along by personal injury compensation specialists familiar with the accident at work, Robert Deverell, a lorry driver from Risca, had been employed by Llanelli-based firm Dyfed Steels Ltd at the time of the accident. Mr Deverell had been sent to pick up a shipment consisting of steel beams at the Cardiff Docks from Cargo Services (UK) Limited, but as the last beam was being loaded into his lorry, Mr Deverell was knocked down as the forklift truck reversed and ran over his right leg.
The limb had been damaged so severely in the accident that surgical experts were unable to save it. As a result Mr Deverell’s leg was amputated below the knee, and the lorry driver is still recovering from both the amputation procedure and also from the broken wrist he sustained during the incident as well.
The Health and Safety Executive was alerted following the accident, and HSE investigators discovered that drivers that visited Cargo Services premises were not kept separate from the forklift trucks that were being operated on the worksite. It was also uncovered that the reversing arm of the forklift truck that had struck and injured Mr Deverell so severely was defective as well.
The Cardiff-based firm, located on Queen Alexandra Dock, was called before Cardiff Crown Court by the HSE, where a successful prosecution led to Cargo Services (UK) Limited to being given a fine of £110,000.
The prime minister has been urged once more to abandon the plans of his government for no win no fee legal agreement reforms by the parents of Madeleine McCann, according to recent reports.
In their first public political intervention, Kate and Gerry McCann have joined several high-profile tabloid newspaper victims and libel reform campaigners in order to warn David Cameron off from his plans to reform the conditional fee arrangements that no win no fee lawyers rely upon to provide individuals without deep pockets with access to justice.
The warning comes in the form of a letter, delivered in time before the House of Lords’ third reading of the new legal aid bill, a proposed piece of legislation that has seen its downfall nine times already through amendments made by peers. The McCanns are joined by other tabloid victims such as Christopher Jefferies, who prevailed against eight different newspapers stemming from libelous statements printed about him during the inquiry into Joanna Yeats, and marks the first time that Madeleine’s parents have come forward to make their concerns known about the legal reforms to injury claims proposed by the government.
The letter was co-ordinated by the Libel Reform Campaign and Hacked Off, an organisation that has campaigned for public inquiries to be made into phone hacking. Both groups have protested abut the proposed £350 million in cuts from the annual legal aid budget for the Ministry of Justice, claiming that a reconfiguration of conditional fee agreements will prevent claimants from being able to afford to employ lawyers, as the reforms will no longer provide for them to recover their lawyers’ success fees and expensive insurance premiums from losing defendants; winning claimants will instead see their damages awards reduced in order to pay for the legal fees and court costs.
Proposed changes to the way no win no fee legal claims work in libel and privacy cases would leave ordinary citizens having to deal with rules that are both ‘wrong and unfair,’ according to a libel reform campaigner group.
The prime minister has recently received a letter urging him to think twice about instituting changes to the no win no fee accident claims system, as libel reform campaigners and ‘tabloid press victims’ have come together to protest the new changes. The new bill, which includes restrictions on ‘after the event’ insurance and personal injury claims that use conditional fee arrangements, is set to have its final day in the House of Lords soon, with acceptance of the bill preventing claimants from recovering their insurance premiums and their solicitors’ success fees from the losing side.
The campaigners say in the open letter that the bill’s scope should be narrowed to exclude libel and privacy cases. The campaigners have strong objections to the measure, which was called ‘unjust’ in the letter, as it will only result in severe restrictions to ordinary Brits in libel and privacy cases when it comes to access to justice. Transparency in the public interest, free religious debate, and scientific breakthroughs could all be threatened under this new bill, with ordinary defendants finding it harder to find support for legal actions taken against them by large, deep-pocketed institutions that wish to silence whistle-blowers.
Moreover, victims of abuse from tabloids will have no recourse against tem for gross misrepresentation, false accusations, or phone hacking attempts, the letter also said.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers recently welcomed a decision made by the House of Lords to offer exemptions to industrial disease victims from the no win no fee limitations in the new Legal Aid bill, experts say.
APIL chief executive, Deborah Evans, stated that the new decision was excellent news for those Brits who had been victims of industrial diseases, calling it ‘imperative’ for the Government to not overturn these crucial Legal Aid bill amendments when the House of Commons takes up the debate. However, other injury victims that are not covered under the exemption have suffered a devastating blow, the personal injury compensation expert said, as these innocent classes of people may have had their lives completely upended through the actions of others yet will be denied access to justice under the new rules.
Ms Evans said that there are several problems with the new Legal Aid bill over and above genuine claimants losing access to justice. Under the proposed rules in the bill, the chief executive said, those who are still permitted to claim will see their damages cut by significant amounts.
The bill is nothing but ‘a backwards step,’ Ms Evans said, as a civilised society interested in justice and morality needs to take steps to ensure the vulnerable are protected properly. If these proposed changes become law, in the years that follow the new rules it will soon become prevalent that those innocent people who have suffered injuries and then had to suffer the indignity of having their access to justice taken away from them will have no choice but to rely upon the Government to see to their needs.
In an ironic twist of events, a no win no fee claims management firm finds themselves a defendant in a personal injury compensation case where a secretary fell down some office stairs, suffering a broken wrist.
No win no fee accident claims service firm Quantum, which provides help for those in need of making work accident claims against their employers, has been named as a defendant by Rose Clark, the 56 year old Aberdeen native and employee of the company who suffered an injury on the job in March of 2007. Mrs Clark’s injuries were so severe that it was necessary for her to have plates surgically fitted within her wrist to facilitate her recovery from the fall, which she claims is the fault of her employer, as the staircase lacked adequate banisters and was too steep and narrow. She is asking for a £13,500 compensation award from Quantum at Edinburgh’s Court of Session.
Mrs Clark, who told the court that she was left ‘in mortal agony’ after the fall, and barely able to speak once she regained her feet, recounted how the colleague who discovered her in the wake of the injury suspected the woman had broken her neck due to the way she was lying at the bottom of the staircase. The offices were visited in the wake of the accident by a council inspector, discovering that one of its steps had been loose at the time of the incident.
Quantum argued that the injured woman might have suffered the fall by one of her high-heel shoes catching on a trouser leg. However, Mrs Clark rebutted the assertion, stating that she would have undoubtedly known if that was the cause of her fall.