Stop treating injury victims as second class citizens

Insurers should have been preparing for the reform which they knew was coming, Brett Dixon writes

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May 19, 2017
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I don’t know exactly when injured people started to be viewed as second class citizens, playing second fiddle to tight wallets and hard hearts.

I don’t know why it is so difficult for people to understand that being injured – being in pain and having your life completely turned upside down – is probably one of the worst things that can happen to anyone.

I’ll never understand why accountability for getting things wrong is perfectly acceptable in all other walks of life but seems to be easily forgotten when someone has been needlessly injured. Or why it’s OK for the state to pick up the tab for dealing with the aftermath of injury instead of the person who has caused it, through his insurance company, which has received premiums for the purposes of doing just that.

It’s often forgotten that these are not people who are the victims of unforeseen and unpreventable mishaps. They have been injured – completely needlessly – through no fault of their own, but through someone else’s negligence.

While fairness is an easy concept to invoke in the abstract, in practice it seems to be difficult for some to apply. Indeed, the minute it means paying compensation to ensure people have a chance to try to restore their lives as best they can, we are constantly reminded that we are in economically difficult times.

Reaction to the change to the discount rate is a case in point. First came the usual lip service from the insurance industry about the importance of catastrophically injured people receiving the right amount of compensation.

So far so fair. But it seems the “right” amount of compensation is only right if it is also “fair” for defendants, insurance companies and premium payers. This should be simple. Right means putting the victims of negligence back, as far as possible, in the position they would have been had the negligence never happened. In my experience they would much rather it had never happened. I’ve lost count of the number of times an injured person has said to me: “I’d rather just be the way I was.”

When Philip Hammond, the chancellor, announced that £6 billion would be set aside for the NHS to be able to cover compensation under the new rate, the response from the insurance industry was predictable and hysterical – the change in rate was “extraordinary”, “absurd”, “crazy”. As if it hadn’t known it was coming. As if the industry hadn’t had years to prepare.

But while insurers should have been preparing for the reform which they knew was coming, many of them were resting on their laurels, reaping the benefits of a rate which was too low, while people with life-changing injuries were under-compensated or had to save their compensation in higher-risk investments.

The obvious point that claims against the NHS are only successful when negligence has been proven by the injured person continues to be ignored. But it is a point we will continue to make in the media and to the government.

Brett Dixon is the new president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and a lawyer at Smith Jones Solicitors in Burnley and Kenilworth; this article is an extract from his speech to APIL’s annual conference yesterday

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