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'Where we're going, we (do) need roads', but maybe not a driver

January 30, 2015 at 12:20 PM

If like me you were a child of the 80's you will remember only too well the Back to The Future films which first hit our screens in 1985. Believe it or not, Back to The Future Part II was set in part, in 2015. You remember, flying cars, self-drying jackets, hover boards and those Nike self tying laces (which by the way, Nike are actually making this year in homage to the film).

Back to the future DeLorean on show

So I thought to myself, how far have we come in the last thirty years, since the film predicted our future?

Well, in 1985 the Polaroid camera was brought to the market with its instantly printed photographs, Windows 1 was launched, along with the Nokia Mobira Talkman (a mobile phone the size of a medium handbag), and we discovered there was a hole in the O-Zone.

Today, we have mobile phones that were incomprehensible in 1985, the internet has revolutionised access to information and whether we like it or not, the world is now a much smaller place. We instantly complain of 'buffering' when we have to wait for our internet connection - I remember going out for an entire afternoon waiting for my Commodore 64 computer to load a program! Safe as to say, we have come a long way.

We are living in exciting times, still in the midst of a technological revolution and, whilst we might not have flying cars, self driving cars might be closer to reality than you think.

Self Driving Cars in the UK

In 2014 the British Government pledged £19 million to help develop and test this technology on our streets. The cars are set to hit Milton Keynes, Coventry, Greenwich and Bristol in the initial tests.

Milton Keynes has a project called MK:Smart which aims to transform the town into one of the world’s 'smart cities'. One aspect of this project is the LUTZ Pathfinder Pod (pictured below) which is set to realise the potential of autonomous or self-driving vehicles: trials of the pods are due to start in 2015.

An early concept of the LUTZ Pathfinder pods

Personally, I am both excited and terrified at the prospect of a car that drives itself, and wait with baited breath for demonstrations of how these vehicles will work.

Don’t get me wrong, the prospect of relaxing in the car, possibly even eating my breakfast on my way to the office is great, but we all know computer technology, even in today's world, can be prone to going awry. 'Turning it off and turning it on again' might not be an option when you are doing 50mph on a dual carriageway.

In a collision, who would be to blame?

As a Solicitor specialising in personal injury I am concerned about how the technology will impact on safety both for passengers and other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Liability (or fault) in car accidents can already be complex to discover and attribute, and adding the further factor of an automated vehicle will only raise more questions.

• If a car, being controlled by its computer, is involved in a collision, who is to blame, the owner, the manufacturer or possibly both?

• What if the technology hasn't been maintained by the owner making it malfunction?

• If the car is going too fast who is liable for the speeding ticket?

Will all such cars be fitted with 'black boxes' and / or cameras so that data can be analysed in order to work out what went wrong? How will this be policed?

The law can be slow to keep up with changing times, even more so when progress is so rapid. I just hope the Government is investing as much time and money into considering the safety and legal implications of driverless cars as they are into the technology required to make them.

 

Would you ever buy a driverless car, or should the responsibility of operating a motor vehicle always lie with a human?

 

About the author

Louisa Chambers PhotoLouisa Chambers is a Chartered Legal Executive and Solicitor within Spencers complex injury team. Louisa has vast experience in acting for clients who have suffered serious and life changing injuries through road traffic accidents.

Louisa's previous blog was Head injuries in sport: knowledge is power, but only money talks....

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Compensation: myth and reality

January 16, 2015 at 1:56 PM

Working as a personal injury lawyer, the phrase 'compensation culture' is unfortunately never far away - and sometimes it's not hard to see why.

Almost every TV channel, radio station and newspaper will have some form of advert stating 'where there's blame there's a claim' or 'you could be entitled to compensation'. Meaning it is easy for the public to start believing people claim for almost any mishap or financial irregularity, in exchange for huge sums of cash.

But I assure you this isn't the case, and so I wanted to revisit a few of the myths around compensation in the workplace that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) published an excellent report on last year.

 

Workers are too ready to claim compensation?

It is estimated that every year over 850,000 workers are injured or made ill through work, most of whom go on to make a full recovery. Unfortunately over 25,000 of these workers will be forced to give up work as a result of their illness or work related injury, yet according to the Association of British Insurers only 60,000 will gain any compensation from their employers. This means that 9 out of every 10 workers who are injured or made ill through work get no compensation whatsoever.

During 2013/14, an estimated 629,000 workers were involved in some sort of accident whilst at work - 133 of these fatally injured. Although shocking, this is less than half the number of workers killed 20 years ago.

Graph of fatal injuries over the last 20 years

Over 50 percent of fatal injuries to workers involved either falls from height, contact with moving machinery or being struck by a vehicle - with falls and slips/trips making up more than half of all the reported major injuries.

Despite the view that workers are quick to jump on compensation opportunities, I often speak to clients who are actually fearful of making a claim as they don't want their relationship with their employer to be affected, or even for their employer to suffer financially. Many workers are often totally unaware that any compensation awarded does not come directly from their employer, but from their public liability insurance policy.

An injury claim against your employer also doesn't always need to be a negative action. In many cases the outcome of a claim can actually help ensure working environments are more closely assessed - thereby reducing the likelihood of someone else being harmed. It is for this reason that I would urge anyone injured at work to always report the accident and obtain specialist legal advice following medical attention.

Compensation is paid for any old accident?

To me the myth that 'compensation is paid for any old accident' is quickly discredited by the statistic I referenced earlier - that 9 out of every 10 workers who are injured through their work receive no compensation and over 25,000 people are forced to give up work every year as a direct result of an injury or illness received whilst working.

Minor scratch on thumb

Some people may believe that they can sue for compensation whenever there's an accidental mishap, and that compensation is just dished out regardless by the courts. This clearly is not the case as successful claimants must prove that the defendant had been negligent; which can be exceptionally difficult as the incident must have been foreseeable with the actions or inactions of the defendant causing the injury.

Previously, if an employer caused an injury by breaching the health and safety regulations, the employee could rely on that breach as the basis of his case. More recently, the Government made changes to the law to favour employers and it is now up to the claimant to prove that the employer was negligent. By changing the law to favour the employer it is likely to put off large numbers of workers from making claims for compensation, allowing many negligent employers to avoid making amends and allowing them to continue operating potentially unsafe working practices.

Lawyers often drag these cases on unnecessarily to keep their costs up?

Solicitors have to act in their client's best interest; therefore they cannot drag cases on unnecessarily to increase their costs and the costs have to be proportionate to the case, reasonable and necessary.

Most cases now go through a new claims procedure where legal costs incurred by the claimant are fixed; meaning the maximum costs which can be incurred for a claim falling within £10,000-£25,000 will be capped at £1,600. There is simply no benefit to a lawyer in dragging a case out for a bigger bill.

Law Books stopwatch legal

The new claims procedure also benefits the claimant in that the timeframes for insurance companies accepting claims and making decisions on liability (fault) are greatly reduced. I consider this to be especially good news for injured people.

It is often the case that in the event a defendant or their insurer fails to admit liability quickly, little or no attempt is made to offer rehabilitation or early medical treatment to the victim. This can lead to a slower recovery or the victim's injury becoming worse due to the delay in specialist treatment, particularly with back problems as they tend to respond quicker to early intervention.

Further cost and time savings would be observed if insurers admitted liability early, rather than waiting until the last minute when medical or other expert reports have been obtained to prepare a case for trial.

Compensation payments are too high?

My motivation for working in personal injury comes from helping those who have been unfairly injured, not to sue as many companies as possible. Strict guidelines govern what must be proven in order to claim compensation, showing that the bar for claiming work based compensation is in fact very high. Reports show that 75% of cases are for damages of less than £10,000. It is estimated that an average settlement is around £7,500 but due to a small number of larger payments, the majority of claimants receive less than £5,000.

money on scales

Very occasionally there are settlements of over £1,000,000; however these often relate to people who have been severely injured, or as a result of their injury or illness require permanent care. This figure therefore simply reflects the loss in income over their remaining working life, and the fact they will never work again in their chosen profession.

Whilst researching this blog I read about teacher Joyce Walters who received £156,000 in compensation when she damaged her vocal chords after being forced to raise her voice to be heard in class. On the surface this amount may seem excessive for what many may consider a part of her job, however Mrs Walters actually had to undergo months of speech therapy and can still only speak for a short period before her throat becomes sore and hoarse. This has made it impossible for her to ever go back to her chosen career and her life outside work has been irrevocably altered, which the compensation amount no doubt is intended to reflect.

 

The myths and the human cost

In my role I deal with the aftermath of work related injuries, witnessing first-hand the life-changing effects on people's lives. While those such as Mrs Walters may receive the compensation deserved, it will never truly compensate for someone's health being ruined because an employer failing to provide a safe place of work.

Quite simply, if employers had safer working practices then the likelihood of a claim against them would be greatly reduced. Even in the event of a claim, if the insurance companies just accepted liability earlier then the claim amount could be greatly reduced, with early intervention and treatment offering the opportunity to soften the impact.

 

Have you encountered any stigma when making a claim for compensation? Or do you believe there's some truth in some of these myths?

 

About the author

Stephanie Robinson  PhotoStephanie Robinson is a Chartered Legal Executive with over twelve years experience of helping injured people. Stephanie currently handles cases that involve accidents at work, occupier's liability and accidents in public.

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Saving our lollipop men and women

January 8, 2015 at 9:35 AM

School Crossing Patrols are under threat across the UK. Despite lollipop men and women having made an invaluable and ongoing contribution to road safety in our country for over 60 years, financially hard-pressed local authorities are considering scaling back or axing the service entirely - with several having already done so.

The idea of School Crossing Patrols (SCPs) was first trialled in the late 1940s. The favourable reception given to the service was such that 1953 saw the School Crossing Patrol Act being passed, giving SCPs the legal authority to stop traffic, and the first permanent lollipop lady made her appearance in London that year.

The idea was swiftly taken up by other local councils, freeing up the police officers who previously performed this duty.

School crossing patrol with children crossing road

Threats to School Crossings

However, the first rumblings of a threat to SCPs came in 2000, when a change in the law shifted responsibility for the service to local authorities. At the same time the legal requirement to provide them was removed.

This means that when council tax revenues are down or government grants to local authorities are cut, the service provided by lollipop men and women can be scaled back or discontinued as a savings initiative.

For example, Derbyshire County Council (DCC) recently announced plans to axe SCPs as part of a proposed £157 million in cutbacks. They say that alternative means of funding SCP sites must be found if the service is to continue.

The strength of feeling against DCC’s proposals is clear to see. Numerous petitions have been prepared since the announcement and the number of signatures is increasing rapidly. The campaign to save the SCPs has also been taken up by Lee Rowley, a prospective MP for North East Derbyshire, who has himself commenced an on-line petition.

Saving Lives or Saving Money

Cost simply should not be the determining factor in this issue. Not when the lives and safety of children are at risk. Statistics provided by the Department of Transport indicate that around four million schoolchildren cycle or walk to school each day. In recent years, figures suggest an average of seven child pedestrians or cyclists are killed or seriously injured on our roads every day.

Lollypop man with stop sign in street

The risk is never greater than at this time of year, when the mornings are gloomy and dusk comes early. In the afternoons when our children are making their way home, and many vehicles have yet to switch on their headlamps despite the onset of darkness, the service provided by our lollipop men and women is invaluable. I daren't begin to think about the inevitable consequences of removing SCPs from our busy streets.

Early this year in St. Leonard's, Brighton, two children aged eight and ten were knocked down by a van close to Christ Church Primary School - where up until two years ago there had been two SCPs. Now there is just one, as the local authority decreed that this was not a danger spot. Fortunately, on this occasion the children were not seriously injured, but if a lollipop person had been present to ensure their safety they might have remained completely unhurt.

 

In an era of increased road traffic our children are clearly in danger. SCPs help to ensure child safety on the way to and from school and are instrumental in teaching children valuable road awareness skills. Both the government and local councils should rethink their position on this matter and work to enshrine the protection of SCPs, and by extension our children, in law.

 

Does your route to school involve a crossing patrol? If so, how do you feel about the possibility that they might not be there much longer?

 

About the author

Robert Landman PhotoRobert Landman is the Chief Executive Officer at Spencers Solicitors and responsible for providing effective leadership and optimisation of day to day business operations. Robert also oversees all Spencers' local community activities and initiatives.

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