Usdaw urges the Government not to penalise injured workers because of whiplash claims concerns

Date: 09 February 2017 Shopworkers’ trade union leader John Hannett has urged the Government not to restrict access to justice for victims of workplace accidents or diseases because of assertions there is an ‘epidemic’ of whiplash compensation claims.
The Ministry of Justice is due to respond to their consultation by 7 April, on a proposal to raise the limit for personal injury claims that go to a small claims court from £1,000 to £5,000. The proposal is driven by concerns about whiplash claims, but will also affect employer and public liability cases. This week the Justice Select Committee heard evidence on the proposal from the Association of British Insurers and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.

John Hannett- Usdaw General Secretary says: “We welcome the select committee taking an interest in these controversial Government proposals and we hope they will take further evidence. It was clear from this week’s session that, whilst there is a debate about compensation for whiplash caused by road traffic accidents, there is no concern about fraud or excessive claims in employer and public liability cases. The select committee heard that the complexity of workplace injury cases make them entirely unsuitable for a small claims court. So we are calling on the Government to take employer and public liability claims out of the scope of their review.   

“Under the current arrangements, an Usdaw member injured at work will get a first-class legal service and 100% of the compensation we are able to secure. Raising the small claims court limit to £5,000 jeopardises that. Around 70% of the cases we currently take are under £5,000. Workplace injuries and diseases are often complicated cases that cannot easily be taken by individuals without proper legal representation and expert reports. Those costs might have to be paid for out of any award the individual received for their injury, which is grossly unjust.

“Beyond the effects on individuals, we believe there will be a knock-on effect on health and safety at work. Our efforts to make workplaces safer rely on employers understanding that they can be financially liable for accidents and diseases. If workers’ access to justice is restricted, less scrupulous employers will undoubtedly let safety standards slip. The Government needs to think very carefully about how they proceed, to ensure that there aren’t unintended consequences for workers’ health and safety.”

Case studies of the type of personal injury claim that would be caught by these proposals. Under the Government’s proposals it is unlikely a solicitor would take on the following cases given the amount of work required, complexity and modest amount of damages recovered. On that basis the changes are likely to drive victims to unscrupulous claims management companies:
 
  • A parcel delivery driver suffered a hernia injury whilst lifting parcels weighing over 25kg.The parcels were not marked as heavy, so a claim was brought for breach of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.It was a complicated case with the employer denying liability throughout. The Usdaw member would have found it impossible to navigate the liability issues in this case alone and may have given up at that stage. The claim was settled at £4,500.
  • An Usdaw member suffered burns and damage to property when a hot water pipe ruptured in his rented home. The local authority denied liability and blamed contractors. The contractors in turn blamed sub-contractors. Our member required independent engineering evidence and we settled at £4,000 pre-trial. Our member would not have been able to pursue this claim without proper legal representation. He would not have been able to identify the correct defendant, get engineering evidence or prove the facts of his case.
  • An employee suffered a head injury when struck by a heavy metal bolt that fell from a roller shutter door. Liability was denied by the employer who alleged that their system of inspection and maintenance of the doors prior to the accident was reasonable. Solicitors provided by Usdaw were able to demonstrate negligence in the absence of relevant documentary evidence and our member was awarded £1,250 in damages. Our member would not have been able to prove negligence without legal representation.
  • A cleaner was injured when a ride-on cleaning machine crashed. The employer denied liability, relying on records showing the equipment had been serviced regularly. This was a complex case requiring legal representation to prove breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations as evidence of negligence. He received £2,000 for general damages.
  • Our member suffered from Tenosynovitis as a result of heavy and repetitive above head height lifting at work. The case involved complex issues of law and causation. She was awarded £3,000 by way of general damages. She would have struggled to pursue this claim without legal representation.
Notes for editors:

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and the fastest growing trade union with over 435,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 10% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the Union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion
 

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