Seeing and reading this phrase probably makes your blood boil if you’ve ever come into contact with the adverts of the now ridiculous number of companies offering proudly to provide legal action No Win, No Fee, No Risk. These companies offer free legal representation if they can find someone to sue for your misfortune. Needless to say these adverts drag out the dodgiest looking array of actors and actresses who on cue dramatically collapse with the flair and grace of a knocked out heavyweight boxer.
Compensation Culture is another export of our neighbours across the Atlantic who take a huge amount of enjoyment in suing each other and rather like Halloween we have embraced this pastime wholeheartedly. So much so that according to the Association of British Insurers in 2008, personal injury claims totalled £9.6 billion, a figure similar to that of the GDP of a small African country. But what does this mean to our everyday lives?
This culture could be one possible cause of childhood obesity. With claims being made for even the smallest injuries, schools and youth clubs have had to be a lot more careful when allowing children to exercise and play in their care. In some cases, physical exercise has been restricted and sometimes cancelled due to the fear of parents bringing litigation if an injury would occur.
As well as this, there have been huge amounts paid out by government organisations for slip, trip and fall claims. Not only do many claims end in a payout, but the cost of the legal representation also has to be paid by the councils if they lose. According to Accidents Direct, Swansea council paid out £800,000 over five years with an average payout of £4,055 for each individual. Examples from a variety of councils include a £21,000 payout for a staff member who fell off a stool and a £5,000 payout after a member of staff injured a foot when they stepped forward awkwardly. With a No Win, No Fee claim, there is no apparent risk for the client and therefore with thousands of pounds able to be gained, many people are claiming for even the most minor of accidents, ones that in a normal society would be passed off as an accident or pure clumsiness such as children falling out of trees.
Those who own and drive cars are starting to be affected. The number of personal injury claims being lodged after accidents has meant that the amount paid out by insurers has increased; this cost has been passed onto the consumer in higher car insurance premiums.
A rise can also be seen in the most ridiculous safety labels being added to products in an attempt by companies to protect themselves from the claims of those who are obviously lack a necessary amount of common sense to use the products they buy. Such labels include:
“Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.” — On a pair of shin guards made for cyclists.
“Caution: Do not spray in eyes.” — On a container of underarm deodorant.
“Please keep out of reach of children.” — On a butcher’s knife.
“Do not iron clothes on body.” — On packaging for a Rowenta iron.
Personal injury litigation itself is not a bad thing; it allows people who have been injured, sometimes seriously, to get compensation that allows them to cover the cost of treatment and damages. In some cases, people have lost their jobs as a consequence of their injuries and may have to take months off to recover and therefore a claim would mean they were able to live throughout this period and may mean that they do not end up in serious debt. It is the abuse of this litigation and the numerous law firms’ description of the service they are providing that puts the idea in people’s head. Combine this with a loss of personal and social responsibility and a need to find someone else to blame for our mistakes and we have the compensation culture that we find ourselves with. As The Accident Group put it, “Where there’s blame, there’s a claim”.
There is, however, hope on the horizon as the Tories are to put an end to this culture in schools unless teachers have shown “reckless disregard”; which is the common sense approach. One can only hope that they make this approach the future for all claims and they push for amendments to be made to our Human Rights which allow people to make these claims.
It seems that these days if you are unlucky enough to be in an accident, whether the accident was your fault or not, no matter how injured you are, there are literally thousands of companies out there willing to represent you. While this compensation culture exists there will always be a significant amount of money to be made from your misfortune.
Here are a couple of videos inspired by the compensation culture:
1. Marcus Brigstocke on Litigation Culture
2. Armstrong and Miller – Claims Direct Sketch
And 3 ridiculous claims for compensation (Courtesy of Claims.co.uk):
1) Ikechukwu Udevi-Aruevoru v Birmingham University
In May 2008, Ikechukwu Udevi-Aruevoru, an international student, sued Birmingham University for £10,000,000 for failing his PhD. The Canadian born student issued a claim against the university which he says was in breach of its duty of care towards him. The mechanical engineering student claimed he was “humiliated and scorned” by tutors at the university. Udevi-Aruevoru also claims that the examiner in one of his oral tests was not an expert in the field and his two supervisors were biased against him. He blames Birmingham University for failing his degree.
The student is now seeking compensation for loss of the PhD and the stress caused as a result of unfair treatment. The claim also demands payment for the financial debt and interest accrued whilst he was at uni.
The university issued a statement saying: “Mr Ukevi-Arueyoru’s supervisors were concerned that he had not grasped the project and the nature of doctoral level research as being fundamentally different from a taught course.” The case continues….
2) Stella Liebeck v McDonald’s
After Stella Liebeck burned herself spilling a cup of McDonalds coffee on her lap she asked McDonalds to pay for the medical bills. When McDonalds only offered $800 she sued them for selling “unreasonably dangerous” coffee. The jury awarded Liebeck an outstanding $2.9 million in damages! McDonald’s argued the claim and the trial judge reduced the total award to $640,000. McDonalds later reduced the temp of their coffee to 60-70 degrees in order to avoid future law suits.
3) Matt Lincoln v Lakewood Church
Matt Lincoln claims that he was so overcome by the spirit of God that he fell and hit his head while worshiping at Lakewood church. He is now attempting to claim £2,500,000 from the Tennessee church to pay for medical bills, loss of income, pain and suffering. Lincoln, 58, reportedly fell during worship in 2007 whilst having a physical reaction to the spirit of God. Lincoln has since undergone two surgeries since the fall and blames the church for not providing someone to catch him if the spirits of God take over his body.
Zurich of North America, the church’s insurance company, deny the claim, stating that Lincoln should have noticed that no-one was behind him to catch him. The trial goes on.