Reforms to personal injury claims are back on the Government`s agenda following the Queen’s speech on 21 June 2017. In a surprisingly brief wish list of legislation is a Civil Liability Bill designed to address the ‘compensation culture’ around motor insurance claims. These reforms don’t take the unique needs of vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motor cyclists and pedestrians into account.
What the reforms actually say
The Government`s personal injury reforms, including the introduction of a whiplash Injury tariff scheme for injuries lasting two years or less, are to go ahead. The Civil Liability Bill will introduce the tariff system and also ban pre-medical offers. These are the proposals which were in the Prisons and Courts Bill of 2016-17.
There is no change to the original plan which was to increase the small claims limit for ALL road traffic matters from £1,000 to £5,000 on 1 October 2018. For all other personal injury matters the limit is to be increased from £1,000 to £2,000.
The impact these reforms will have
New research from Capital Economics (instructed by lobbying group A2J) shows that 80% of road traffic accident claims settled by solicitors over the past year were for less than £5,000. This means that hundreds of thousands of injured road traffic claimants will now have to pursue personal injury claims themselves through the Small Claims Court where any legal fees are not recoverable from the wrongdoer. It is likely that many injured people would be targeted by unqualified claims companies because it is not economically viable for solicitors to be instructed on cases proceeding in the Small Claim Court.
The Government`s reforms are intended to tackle the industry which has grown around “whiplash claims” and the perceived “compensation culture”. It is also thought that many “whiplash claims” are fraudulent as there is no objective test to ascertain if the injury complained of is genuine. Insurers welcome these developments and have said that they would pass on any savings to consumers through reduced car insurance premiums. Evidence from APIL suggests otherwise.
How vulnerable road users will be affected
These reforms are particularly unfair on vulnerable road users – cyclists, motor cyclists and pedestrians. Vulnerable road users rarely, if ever sustain whiplash injuries. Unlike occupants of motor vehicles who submit claims for whiplash injuries caused by rear end impacts there are often complex liability arguments in a case involving a cyclist, motor cyclist or pedestrian. In my experience of acting for vulnerable road users, insurers will often either deny liability or will argue that the claimant was partly at fault. In addition, unlike a claim for whiplash injuries, their cases will not fall into the tariff scheme so will be more complex to assess.
Vulnerable road users are thus collateral damage in a package of personal injury reforms designed to tackle whiplash injuries. The Government has ignored the calls of organisations such as Cycling UK and British Cycling who urged the Government to limit the Small Claims increase for vulnerable road users to £2,000.
Paul Kitson is an avid cyclist, an expert in traffic law related to vulnerable road users - predominantly cyclists - and works at the London office of Hugh James.