3rd April 2014 COMPENSATION CULTURE

THE MYTH: GRADUATES ARE BANNED FROM THROWING MORTAR BOARDS

THE REALITY: HEALTH AND SAFETY LAW DOESN'T STOP GRADUATES HAVING FUN AND CELEBRATING THEIR SUCCESS IN THE TIME-HONOURED FASHION

THE HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE

As an undergraduate soon to graduate, this example of health and safety 'gone mad' struck a chord. Living in the UK over-precautious measures like this seem to be commonplace: so much so that a Health and Safety Executive panel regularly bust health and safety myths. These have included bans on children playing conkers unless they are wearing goggles and trapeze artists being ordered to wear hard hats.

Rules like these in the name of health and safety are arguably put in place to prevent claims for injury or disease; however such restrictions were unheard of until relatively recently. It is easy to point the finger at compensation culture for creating excessive litigation, but this culture is at times accepted without contemplation as to whether it actually exists. Is there a real rise in the number of individuals making claims and is this a real concern as the government and press make it out to be?

Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, described compensation culture as 'a catch-all expression... It's the idea that for every accident someone is at fault. For every injury, someone to blame. And, perhaps most damaging, for every accident, there is someone to pay'.

Insurers seem believe that compensation culture is a problem: Axa Chief Paul Evans has suggested that the UK is growing closer to America in levels of excessive litigation. Recently whiplash has been specifically targeted by James Dalton, head of motor and liability for the Association of British Insurers. He questioned whether compensation should be available for whiplash claims at all: 'There will always be a role for PI lawyers in complex, high-value claims - my question is whether there is a place for them at all in low-value factory-based claims'. This suggestion has found support from the government: David Cameron has been quoted as wanting to stop 'trivial claims' such as whiplash and the Ministry of Justice have confirmed plans for medical panels to assess these claims.

It can be argued that the government and insurers have confused rises in levels of litigation with compensation culture: they are not one and the same. The most recent government report concerning compensation stated that: 'It is evident from the statistical evidence that the UK is not moving towards a "compensation culture" driven by a significant increase in litigation'. Furthermore a 2013 report written by workers health journal Hazards and backed by the Trade Union Congress revealed that the number of people receiving awards for workplace injuries or disease has fallen 60 per cent over the past decade.

Without adequate evidence to support a rise in fraudulent or exaggerated claims, it seems unjust that compensation for injuries such as whiplash should be made completely unavailable. Although there can be difficulties in medical assessment of whiplash, it is an injury nonetheless and a debilitating one at that. Ending compensation for whiplash could create a slippery slope for other claims such as Noise Induced Hearing Loss: it is worrying to consider where these cuts would end. Compensation for injury is a crucial aspect of law and claimants should not be stigmatised by insurance companies, the government or the press. It would seem that the next myth that needs busting is the 'compensation culture' itself.

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