Let’s not forget that the victim of an accident or a patient who has been injured as a result of a negligent doctor is often completely innocent. The aim of negligence laws is to place such a person in a position as if the harm had not been done to them. The recent changes in funding and more particularly the Jackson Reforms contravene this basic right of English law.
The first assistance that victims of accidents had taken away from them was legal aid. The applications were quite stringent. You had to show to the legal aid board that the client had an excellent case. You then had to show through means testing that the client could not afford to pay their legal fees. Often these cases were successful and the legal aid board was paid in full. As a result the legal aid system for personal injury was not a drain on Government purses. Despite this they abolished this for all but a few personal injury cases and following this decision the Government invented the system of no win no fees.
It was the Government’s idea that as Solicitors had to take a chance on bringing a case that they should be paid a success fee in addition to their normal fee. Initially this success fee was paid by the client out of their damages. The rules were changed and the amount was subsequently paid by the opponent in the event of a win. This system had a problem though. Formerly if the client had the benefit of a legal aid certificate they were protected from having to pay the other side’s costs in the event of a failed case. As a no win no fee agreement did not offer the client this protection after the event insurance was brought into being and the cost of this was also recoverable from the other side in the event of a win.
The Government’s new proposals are that the success fee should now be paid from client’s own damages and also the cost of any insurance policy should be discharged from damages. As a result, people who are the most vulnerable in our society and those who have been injured will in effect have to pay for the cost of running their case out of their damages. This seems wholly unfair. No doubt insurers will say that generally legal costs are escalating. Surely it would be in everybody’s interest to spend money investing in prevention of accidents rather than compensating them afterwards.
People do complain about health and safety regulations, but they are there for a purpose. 180 workers are killed at work every year. 130,000 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDOR. 29.3 million days were lost overall due to work related ill health and work place injury. On our roads 2,200 people are killed every year and 24,500 are seriously injured. I believe that obtaining compensation for pain and suffering and repayment of wages lost and expenses incurred is worthwhile and that clients should not be penalised for being the victim of an accident.