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Damages for whiplash injuries

Part of Civil Liability Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 23rd October 2018.

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Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:30 pm, 23rd October 2018

Amendment 2 gets to the heart of our issues with the Bill and would remove the whiplash compensation tariff system altogether. We are dealing with human beings who experience pain differently, who have different lives and who will all be affected by a similar injury in a slightly different way. We would not accept a pricing of insurance premiums that did not take account of whether we drove a Mini or a Maserati, and we would not accept a standard payment for damage to a car, regardless of its state after an accident. Where is the justification for using such a blunt instrument as a tariff to calculate pain?

We all want to stamp out false whiplash claims, but why should HGV drivers, firefighters or parents driving their kids to school be treated like fraudsters claiming falsely for whiplash, left with tariff compensation and no legal help? As Lord Woolf, the eminent former Law Lord who carried out a review of civil justice after being commissioned by a previous Conservative Government, pointed out in the Lords:

“The effect of whiplash injuries, with which we are concerned, can vary substantially according to the physical and mental sturdiness of the victim. This means that the appropriate amount of damages for a whiplash injury can vary substantially... I suggest that they are not suited to a fixed cap, as proposed by the Government.”

He went on to say that a tariff

“offends an important principle of justice, because it reduces the damages that will be received by an honest litigant because of the activities of dishonest litigants.”

The Government’s proposals will punish the honest based on the behaviour of the dishonest, but how big is that dishonest group? The ABI said in 2017 that insurers paid out in 99% of all cases and that fraud was proven in only 0.22% of cases. Woolf decried the Government’s move to

“interfere with the Judicial College guidelines by substituting tariffs or a cap, which lack the flexibility of the guidelines.”

He went on in speaking against the proposed dismissal of a tried and tested system of justice to say that the Lord Chancellor

“is motivated, at least in part, not by the normal principles of justice as I understand them but by saving insurers money, in the belief that this will result in a reduction in premiums for motorists who are insured when they come to pay for their insurance.”

Later, he put it as strongly as simply saying:

“There is no precedent for this intervention in the assessment of damages in civil proceedings.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 2018;
Vol. 791, c. 1593-1595.]

He went on to quote Sir Rupert Jackson, who said:

“It is the function of judges (not Parliament) to set the tariffs for pain, suffering and loss of amenities in respect of different categories of personal injuries”.

Lawyers who deal with such issues all the time have pointed out how people who are already suffering, and perhaps unable to earn a living due to their injury, will be worse off under the proposed tariff. They include experienced legal practitioners from the Tory Back Benches, such as Baroness Berridge, who said:

“I have met many a claimant for whom the difference in damages now proposed by the introduction of the tariff, taking some damages from four figures—£1,200 or £1,400—down to the likes of £470 is a significant matter for many peoples’
incomes up and down this country. I cannot have it portrayed that this might not make a great deal of difference to many ordinary people in the country.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 2018;
Vol. 791, c. 1611.]

That is from a Government Back Bencher.