According to the insurance industry whiplash claims are costing policyholders an average of £90 annually so the government’s aim is to reduce the amount of compensation paid out to people. Their proposed method is to increase the small claims threshold in personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000.
However critics have attacked the proposals. They say that increasing the limit will have unforeseen consequences that will reduce access to justice.
Although it has not yet been determined if these proposed changes will apply to all personal injury claims it is a distinct possibility that the increase in the small claims limit will apply to ‘slips and trips’ and public liability claims.
Slips and trips claims, being pursued under the Highways Act 1980 and the like, can be complex, with multiple witnesses being called and hundreds of pages of documents to disclose. So, although the value of such an injury claim might fall within the proposed small claims track limits, the legal complications make them unsuitable for the small claims court processes and deadlines. The complexity of slip and trip claims also make it problematic for a litigant in person (ie someone without a lawyer) to bring a claim of this type in court on their own without representation.
If ‘small claims’ were to rise to £5,000 in personal injury it is clear that there will be battles in deciding which County Court track to allocate tripping, slipping and highways claims to. Current rules state that various factors must be considered before allocation can be decided. If the threshold is increased consideration of the likely complexity of the facts, law or parties will become matters of key importance.
It is also likely that if these changes are introduced we will see an increase in claims management companies undertaking work themselves, rather than solicitors.
As no firm decisions have been taken we hope that the government will see sense and pull back from taking a step that will reduce access to justice and leave victims open to exploitation by companies who do not share the same professional ethics as qualified, regulated solicitors.