LEGAL EAGLE: Left alone in the small claims court

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At the budget Autumn statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it will be more difficult in future to make personal injury compensation claims. What is happening?

George Osborne said 2 things: one – that it would not be possible at all in future to make claims for “minor” whiplash injuries and two – that the limit for small claims would go up to £5,000.

On whiplash injuries – insurance companies selling car insurance often complain that dealing with such claims costs a lot of money and that premiums could come down if there were no or fewer whiplash claims.

The number of such claims HAS gone down in recent times by 70,000 – a large drop.

But there has been no linked drop in car insurance premiums. Mr Osborne has not said what a “minor” whiplash injury actually is.

And although it seems clear that it is road traffic accidents that concern him that isn’t in fact the only way you can get whiplash –so for example if you get a whiplash injury at work because your employer did not pay enough attention to your safety will that mean you cannot claim compensation for your injuries? As yet we don’t know but it does look that way.

A “small claim” in personal injury terms is currently a claim worth £1,000 or more for injuries caused in an accident – leaving aside any expenses caused by the injuries.

If your claim is worth more than £1,000 you can employ a solicitor to do it for you and if you win the other side has to pay your solicitor’s fees. This doesn’t apply to claims worth less than £1,000 and if the limit changes as Mr Osborne said then in future it will not apply to injuries worth less than £5,000.

Just to put some perspective on that: if you break your wrist and it heals quickly in a court you would get far less than £5,000 for that; if you lost part of your little finger in an accident that also would be worth a lot less than £5,000.

An injured person might not look on these sorts of injury as being trivial. The rise from £1,000 to £5,000 is a very large rise.

If it goes ahead it will leave a lot of people on their own in the small claims court without legal representation having to take on by themselves insurers and lawyers appointed by insurers.

It has been said there will be consultation about these proposed changes in the New Year. There will be much to debate.