The Ministry of Justice has announced that it plans to raise the small claims limit for personal injury claims from £1,000 to £5,000 as part of a response to an alleged "whiplash epidemic". However this change will have an impact far beyond whiplash claims, claims a personal-injury lawyer who specialises in cycling claims.
Cyclists who suffer injuries as a result of negligent driving will find it harder to pursue compensation following proposals, says Andrew Bradley, partner in law firm Leigh Day’s personal injury team.
Bradley said: “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.
“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.”
The small claims process is designed for parties to resolve disputes without the need for lawyers. As a result, the legal costs recoverable from a losing opponent in small claims matters are negligible.
Most personal injury claims, save for very minor injuries, wattract awards in excess of £1,000 and therefore currently fall outside of the small claims process. This enables those injured to obtain appropriate legal advice.
In a typical claim, solicitors will not only assist with obtaining compensation for the injuries sustained, but will also help to arrange rehabilitation and look to secure swift payment for damaged property, ensuring for example that cyclists are able to repair or replace their bike as quickly as possible.
Under the new proposals, injury claims of up to £5,000 would also fall within the small claims process. As a result solicitors would not be paid by the losing party for any work carried out on the claim.
This leaves the injured party with the option of pursuing a claim themselves against an insurer intent on disputing even the most straightforward claim, or instructing a solicitor who will have to deduct a substantial chunk of any damages recovered to cover their fees.
The range of injuries potentially classified as small claims under the new proposals include a fractured ankle, foot or clavicle; a collapsed lung; or back, neck and shoulder injuries with symptoms persisting up to two years.