New British government proposals to change the small claims system could make it hard for cyclists injured by drivers to obtain compensation.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wants to raise the limit for personal injury small claims from £1000 to £5000.
>> Struggling to get to the shops? Try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<
This move is part of several measures intended to combat the increase in the number of small claims for whiplash injuries, which the government says has reached ‘epidemic’ proportions and are reportedly costing insurers in the region of £2.5 billion per year.
Justice secretary Elizabeth Truss said when unveiling the proposals on Thursday: “For too long some have exploited a rampant compensation culture and seen whiplash claims an easy payday, driving up costs for millions of law-abiding motorists.
“These reforms will crack down on minor, exaggerated and fraudulent claims. Insurers have promised to put the cash saved back in the pockets of the country’s drivers.”
However, the change in rules do not just affect whiplash claims – but all injury claims. Currently, the vast majority of injury claims are for a figure above the £1000 threshold, and therefore the injured party does not use the small claims process. They can employ a solicitor for legal advice, with legal costs recovered from the negligent party.
Legal costs cannot be recovered on small claims, which means that the party seeking compensation would either deal with the process without legal assistance or have to pay their solicitor out of their compensation – which could be a substantial amount.
Personal injury specialists Leigh Day, which deals with numerous claims from injured cyclists, says that the new system would be bad news for cyclists.
“Many cyclists will be aware of how painful a fractured clavicle can be, and the extent to which it can impact on their ability to enjoy cycling and many other aspects of day-to-day life,” said Leigh Day partner Andrew Bradley.
“To suggest that someone with an injury of this nature should lose the entitlement to legal support because insurers feel that they are facing too many whiplash claims seems grossly unfair.
“The MoJ state that their proposals will save motorists £40 per year on their insurance policy, but there will be no legislation to guarantee this reduction and insurers do not have a history of passing savings on to customers. In reality, shareholders of the major insurance companies will be the real beneficiaries of this policy, whilst cyclists and many thousands of others injured through no fault of their own will lose hundreds or thousands of pounds.”
In addition to the change in small claims limit, the MoJ wants to introduce a compensation tariff for types of injury and a ban on claims for injuries that are not supported by medical evidence.