There is a lot to be said about compensation and its place in our society and even more to be said about the phrase ‘compensation culture’. It is a topic that causes polarising views in many people, none so much as those in the legal profession.
This article is going to address three of the most commonly held myths regarding compensation. But before I do so I want to address a point, that is the purpose of compensation. Compensation in the UK is designed to put the injured party back in a position where they may have been had the injury not happened. It compensates you for an injury and refunds you any financial losses that you may have suffered. That is it, nothing more, nothing less.
That said, we can now move on.
Myth One: There is a rampant compensation culture in the UK.
Certain aspects of the media like to portray Claimants as people with low moral fibre out to make a quick buck from a genuine accident where no one is to blame; or as individuals out for all they can get after suffering minor or even invented injuries. This aspect of the media will often discuss ‘compensation culture’ as if it were a real thing.
They have talked about it loud enough and long enough that they have many people convinced that we are a nation of individuals willing to sue over minor (or even invented) infringements.
Fortunately, the truth is quite different.
When Lord Young reviewed the Legal System only a few years ago, he stated that “The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is one of perception rather than reality.”
And Professor Lofsted stated that “The compensation culture (or the perception of it) in the UK has been the subject of several reviews over the last few years, but no evidence has been presented for its existence”.
There is no compensation culture; it is a phrase created to cause concern and dislike towards those who bring claims so that when cuts are made to parts of the legal system, and your access to justice is removed, there is no social outcry.
Myth Two: Compensation payments are too high
One of the most common questions raised is “is it up to me how much I can claim?”
The answer is no.
Unlike in some other countries, compensation in the UK is strictly regulated and is calculated based on what the Claimant has lost. Compensation is calculated via strict guidelines for injury losses and evidence for monetary losses.
There is an organised and structured system designed to calculate compensation payments and keep them fair and regulated. This means that if one person receives £3,000.00 for a broken arm another person suffering the exact same broken arm will receive £3,000.00.
But that being said not every person suffering a broken arm will receive the same amount at the end of the day. This is because compensation is calculated by adding together General and Special Damages.
Definition: General Damages, the compensation recovered for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity. The compensation you receive for the injury itself.
Definition: Special Damages, the compensation recovered for the money you have lost because of the injury such as loss of earnings, travel expenses, medication, etc.
As you can see compensation is regulated and any amount a Claimant hopes to receive must be strictly proven, either by factual evidence such as receipts and payslips or by previous case law and medical reports.
The stories that often get regurgitated about people receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds for a broken arm are either grossly exaggerated or the bulk of the claim will have been made up of the injured parties financial losses, which have to be proven to be successful.
Keeping with the example of a broken arm, person A might receive £5,000.00 altogether while person B might receive £12,000.00. The difference will be in the amount they receive for their financial losses. Perhaps person B had to take longer off work, or they had a higher paying job and have recovered their loss of earnings?
Lastly, it is important to note that a compensation payment is not designed to punish the negligent party or reward the injured party. Instead, compensation is meant to put the injured party back in the position they would have been in if the negligence had not occurred. Therefore payments cannot be too high as thy are restorative in nature not rewarding.
Myth Three: Compensation is paid for any accident.
Again, thanks to careless reporting by some, it is a common point raised that anyone can claim for any injury. This is not the case.
There are three elements that must be proven for a claim to be successful.
- You must have suffered an accident caused by someone else’s negligence.
- The person who caused your accident must have owed you a duty of care.
- You must have been injured in the accident.
If one of these elements is missing, then you cannot bring a claim, or rather if you do bring a claim, you will lose.
Someone else’s negligence must have caused the accident; a genuine accident is not going to be grounds for a claim. Your accident must have been caused by someone else’s careless behaviour, and their behaviour must be bad enough that it is considered negligence.
The person who caused the accident must owe you a duty of care. A duty of care is the legal obligation you have to safeguard others from harm while they are in your care, using your services, or exposed to your activities. For example, as a driver, you will owe a duty of care to other road users. As a shop owner, you will owe a duty of care to your customers and staff, and a doctor will owe a duty of care to their patients. If the person who caused your accident did not owe you a duty of care, then you cannot bring a claim.
Lastly, you must have been injured to bring a claim. It should go without saying but having an accident is not enough you must have suffered an injury. As said above restoring those who have suffered a loss is the whole purpose of compensation, so if you have not suffered a loss, you cannot claim compensation.
I would like to address one more point, that of fraudulent claims.
Fraudulent claims do happen; there are people who will ‘fake’ an accident to bring a claim or those who will exaggerate an injury to increase their compensation. However, these are the minority and the strict procedures that must be followed to bring a claim for compensation usually bring fraudulent Claimants to light very quickly.
Keep in mind that to successfully claim compensation a Claimant must prove their injury, this means going to a medical expert and having their injury assessed. If they are not injured or are not injured as badly as they claim to be, the medical expert will know this 95% of the time. No one is ever as good an actor as they believe themselves to be when facing an expert with years of experience.
Claimants must also prove their financial losses and that those losses were reasonable. The loss must be connected to the injury and must be reasonably incurred. So, for example, if you suffer a broken arm you cannot claim for your new car, new mobile phone, new shoes, etc.
Solicitors found to be knowingly acting for fraudulent Claimants are also punished. There are very harsh penalties in place for a legal professional if they are found to be assisting in a fraudulent claim. 99% of legal professions will have the moment they become aware of a dishonest Claimant will report them themselves.
In conclusion, you should now have a better understanding of the most common three myths about compensation and how they are not true. You should also have a better understanding of why the myths exist.