The Ministry of Justice is proposing to raise the limit for personal injury claims dealt with in a small claims court from £1,000 to £2,000, with the whiplash claims limit rising to £5,000.
Steve Mitchell, Usdaw’s Deputy Head of Legal Services, today told the Justice Select Committee that Government reforms would restrict access to justice for injured workers, who will be unfairly penalised because of a perceived problem with excessive whiplash claims.
John Hannett - Usdaw General Secretary says: “Our campaign opposes pushing employer and public liability claims under £2,000 into a small claims court, which means that victims will not be able to claim back the cost of legal representation. £2,000 is too high and will adversely impact too many injured workers, it should remain at £1,000, which is a fairer definition of a small claim. The complexity of workplace injury cases make them entirely unsuitable for a small claims court, where the costs of taking a case cannot be recovered.
“Currently an Usdaw member injured at work receives a first-class legal service from the union and 100% of the compensation we are able to secure. Workplace injuries and diseases are often complicated cases that cannot easily be taken by individuals without proper legal representation and expert reports. Raising the small claims court limit could mean some of those costs falling on the victim, which is grossly unjust.
“Beyond the effects on individuals, there could be an effect on health and safety at work. Our efforts to make workplaces safer would be undermined if employers were not financially liable for accidents and diseases because workers’ cannot access justice. 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 that could be recovered. On that basis the changes are likely to drive victims to unscrupulous claims management companies:
• 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.
• An Usdaw member sustained soft tissue injuries to her knee and shoulder when she slipped on a piece of clear plastic dropped on the floor in the stock room. The employer denied liability and court proceedings had to be commenced by our solicitors. Settled a few weeks prior to the trial, when she accepted a £1,500 settlement, our member would not have been able to pursue this matter without the assistance of solicitors.
Notes for editors:
Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fifth 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.
Justice Select Committee – Tuesday 16 January 2018: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/f81a8a79-7007-4c0b-8e79-b9cd6b268941
For Usdaw press releases visit: www.usdaw.org.uk/news and you can follow us on Twitter @UsdawUnion