A NATIONAL drive to protect the public when it comes to personal injury claims is being backed by North East solicitors Sweeney Miller.
There are fears that if proposed Government changes overseen by former Chancellor George Osborne go-ahead, whiplash victims will be penalised, compensation for soft-tissue injuries will be limited or scrapped altogether and changes to small claims limits will play into the hands of insurance companies.
And this month many legal interests, including the Law Society, lobbied the Government over potential Ministry of Justice reforms which could have a big impact on the personal injury sector.
Paul Miller of Sweeney Miller said: “The suggested reforms are supposed to be aiming at improve things but our fear is that they will have the reverse effect as far as the public are concerned.
“And we would call on the Government to look very closely at proposals in front of it and put the onus on putting the interests of the public, and claimants in this case, before anything else.”
The Law Society says reforms, which could be implemented as soon as April, will create a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario, where ordinary claimants suffer – the changes include limiting whiplash payouts to no more than £400 and limiting or disallowing soft tissue claims.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: “There is a real danger to justice if government stops those who have legitimate claims from obtaining the compensation they are entitled to and which helps them get back on their feet.
“Spinning this proposal as an attack on the ‘compensation culture’ and claiming it will reduce premiums is misleading.”
Bourns added that if insurers believe a claim lacks merit they should fight it: he argued these reforms stop people making legitimate claims.
The not-for-profit Association of Professional Injury Lawyers has also signalled its alarm.
Its president, Neil Sugarman, said: “Removing damages for genuine whiplash cases and making claimants injured at work, on the roads and in hospitals, jump through higher hoops to obtain their compensation, victimises people who have been injured through no fault of their own.
“Furthermore, the Government is naïve enough to believe that the savings insurers will make on paying compensation will result in lower insurance premiums.
“Insurance industry figures show quite clearly that the industry has made savings of around £500 million a year since the last round of personal injury reforms three years ago but premiums have actually increased by eight per cent during the same period.
“Insurers will make the savings and keep them, while vulnerable injured people will subsidise an industry which already makes huge profits for its shareholders.”
“One of the proposals is to limit compensation available for a whiplash injury with symptoms which last for six months to £400,” he said.
“That is six months of pain, six months of sleepless nights, six months of not being able to look after young children properly and even, for some, six months without work.
“I would receive almost the same amount if I were travelling from London to Glasgow and my train was delayed by two hours.
“It’s as if people with injuries which should never have happened in the first place are just an inconvenience which can casually be brushed aside.”