Adrian Denson discusses concessions to the personal injury reforms
We recently celebrated a fantastic triumph for both vulnerable road users and personal injury lawyers across the country.
Thanks to intense lobbying by our local MP for Southport, Damien Moore, we’re proud to say that vulnerable road users are now going to be exempt from the new £5,000 small claims limit for road traffic accident claims.
The limit had been proposed as a result of the highly controversial Civil Liability Bill currently making its way through parliament. The Bill is part of a package of primary and secondary legislative measures on personal injury claims.
Along with the increase in the small claims limit from £1,000, the measures, which are intended to come into force in April 2019, would also see the government impose a new tariff on whiplash damages.
According to the House of Lords Library Briefing, these reforms are “designed to disincentivise the number of minor, exaggerated and fraudulent claims for compensation resulting from whiplash injuries sustained in road traffic accidents.”
In other words, the measures are an effort by the current Conservative government to reverse what it believes to be a growing compensation culture.
However, serious questions have been raised by many different groups about the unintended consequences of the legislation. This includes the impact it will have on the accessibility of legal advice for claimants, and whether any savings generated by the proposals will be passed onto customers by the insurance industry.
As details of the new legislation emerged, we became particularly concerned about the lack of distinction between drivers and vulnerable road users.
Why is the concession significant?
Vulnerable road users include pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders, and are the people that our personal injury team dedicates much of its time to helping, given our near 30 years’ experience in dealing with motorcycle accidents and our growing specialism in cycling accident claims.
Vulnerable road users are called so because they are exactly that: vulnerable. When accidents do occur, the result is often more serious and complex than if that same accident occurred in a car.
This is mainly because unlike a car driver, they do not have any protective barrier around them, nor the benefit of safety measures such as a seat belt. They tend to suffer two impacts: the impact from the other vehicle, and then the impact from being thrown to the ground.
Had the new legislative measures gone ahead as originally planned, they would have been extremely damaging in more ways than one.
It was predicted that they would prevent 70% of vulnerable road users recovering their legal costs when claiming compensation for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence. This would make it very difficult for people to find high quality legal representation at a time in their lives when they need it most.
When Fletchers Solicitors first started in 1987, we made motorcycle accidents one of our key focus areas, mainly because victims of these accidents were largely unrepresented. Today, the Fletchers road traffic accident team deals with roughly a third of all non-fault bike claims here in the UK.
This is something that we’re incredibly proud of, but had this concession not been made, it is a statistic that could have jeopardised the livelihoods of the 400 people we employ from in and around Southport.
This would have been true not only for Fletchers, but also many other law firms around the UK where talented and experienced solicitors spend every day fighting for the justice that victims of road traffic accidents deserve.
For these reasons we felt compelled to meet with MP Damien Moore, to discuss the potentially devastating impact of these reforms on the people he represents.
We’re delighted that in this case, the Ministry of Justice has listened to the very valid arguments put forward by Mr Moore, as well as organisations including Cycling UK and the Vulnerable Road Users Action Group.
Our success has served as a reminder of the very real importance of actively working to protect the rights of vulnerable people and our industry from ill-considered blanket reforms.