There is plenty of talk in the media of the government’s plans to raise the small claims track limit for injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000. This proposed “reform” is running alongside reports of the government’s plan to ban the right to claim for whiplash injuries or at least to cap the amount recoverable. Click here for an example. To sweeten the blow, the government “expects” any savings to be passed on to motorists and for our car insurance premiums to be reduced.
The bundling up of these proposals into one news story hides the reality of what the true effect will be of raising the small claims track to £5,000 for injury cases. Not all claims worth less than £5,000 relate to injuries sustained in road traffic accidents. The majority of public liability and employment claims fall within this category. Those who are against making claims for injury in principle will rejoice at this. The average injured person will find themselves terribly alone.
Take the employee injured at work. They fall down the stairs due to a poorly maintained carpet and dislocate their knee. They are unable to work for a month, unable to mobilise and self-care, unable to leave their house, unable to take care of their children, unable to drive. If the small claims track rises, they are also likely to be unable to find a solicitor to represent them against their employer to obtain any compensation. This is because solicitors’ costs will not be recoverable from their employer for a “small claim”.
There is the option that an injured person can be a “litigant in person” and make a claim themselves. This is what is expected if you bring a claim on the small claims track. But this suggests that the value of the claim is directly proportionate to its complexity. The lower the value, the simpler the claim. This is simply not true. Some lower value claims can be extremely complex, particularly where health and safety issues come in to play. Even in straight forward cases, bringing a claim in person can be very daunting for the average individual. Take our employee who fell down the stairs; how are they supposed to know about asking for repair and maintenance records, checking for suitability of flooring, taking photographs, obtaining statements, requesting disclosure of accident reports? How do they know about time limits? How do they know about completing court forms which they have never seen before? How are they supposed to know how much their claim is worth?
I have used an employee/employer scenario deliberately to highlight another potential bar to an employee acting as a litigant in person. Most employees are too scared to bring a claim against their employer for fear of reprisals in the future – usually a fear about losing their job or being treated less favourably. As their solicitor, we are able to reassure the employee that claims are usually dealt with at arm’s length by their employer’s insurers and if there is a hint of any employment issue we will be there to help and guide them. In the absence of solicitor representation an employee will be alone and may be too scared to act.
The insurance industry does of course hope that the raising of the small claims limit will lead to a drop in the number of claims. It is an access to justice issue which shouldn’t be hidden amongst the more headline grabbing news of the banning of whiplash claims and the promise of reduced premiums. It is easy to think that these reforms will not affect you or yours but they might, they really might.