September 29, 2014
In my last blog I touched on the issue of fraudulent claims, which can regularly be seen hitting the British headlines - often alongside telling photographs of supposedly injured claimants obliviously pursuing high-octane activities.
In tackling this I am most certainly in favour of ensuring that those fraudulently pursuing compensation or seeking to recover more compensation than they are entitled to are stopped. However claiming that this is a plague of modern times, tied up in accusations of 'compensation culture', is somewhat misguided. According to information released by Aviva in 2011, frivolous and questionable claims are nothing new in the UK.
Questionable claims from years gone by
Aviva's archives contain evidence of claims made in bygone years which would be questionable even today:
1. Hotel keeper, London, opening bottle of champagne - blow in the eye with cork - £25 10s (Railway Passengers, 1878)
2. Mason, Huntingdon, injured lifting headstone - £72 (Railway Passengers, 1886)
3. Surgeon, Dundee, examining mouth of patient - bite of forefinger - £15 (Scottish Accident, 1888)
4. Stationer, Chorlton, fall over croquet hoop - £33 (Railway Passengers, 1870)
5. Grocer, Lancashire, slipped when playing with children game of blind man's buff - £15 (Railway Passengers, 1878)
These claims are almost 150 years old, yet we often see very similar claims held up in the UK media as example of 'compensation gone mad'. Claiming for such minor incidents is not new, but such examples do highlight the long-standing appreciation held by the UK legal system of a need to seek justice for those who have suffered injury.
The criminal side of claiming
One of the largest criminal activities in compensation today is undoubtedly the rise of orchestrated or staged accidents. However few have been on such an ambitiously large scale as the recent story of a 26-strong Sheffield gang.
The group in question filled a bus with 26 fake victims, and then staged a collision with a separate vehicle with the intention of making bogus compensation claims. As told to Sheffield Crown Court, the single-decker bus was filled with the gangs' own passengers before another car driven by another member of the gang deliberately crashed into the bus at low speed.
When police and ambulance staff arrived only one man appeared to be injured and the offending vehicle had disappeared. Yet strangely 26 claims were then made by the 'passengers' for whiplash injuries, and the bus company had to set aside £250,000 to pay compensation. However, it soon became clear that all was not right, and so Sheffield Mainline made enquiries and reported the stage accident, eventually resulting in a prosecution and four convictions.
Not every minor injury is fraudulent
As the last example showed, it would be naive to think fraudulent claims don't happen today. Yet it is equally naive to believe every whiplash claim is staged or fraudulent, and in fact fraudulent claims account for the minority of injury compensation. Yet as that doesn't make for a good news story, we are unlikely to see it published alongside the sensational headlines.
Indeed a recent Transport Committee report looking at the cost of motor insurance found that:
There is no authoritative data publicly available about the prevalence of fraud or exaggeration and no consensus about what constitutes fraud.
An accessible justice system will always give rise to unscrupulous people attempting to exploit it. But while solicitors, insurance companies and the Government all need to continue to fight fraud, this should not be at the expense of the vast majority of genuinely injured people.
It is also worth remembering that much of the press around fraudulent claims come from the insurance companies who have adopted a 'cheaper to pay than investigate' mentality when it comes to handling potentially fraudulent claims.
We have one of the most highly respected legal systems in the world, and our citizens have the benefit of a judicial system that is not corrupt and accessible to all. The fact that we are all able to pursue a claim for compensation when we are injured through no fault of our own, without financial risk, is a fact that should be celebrated and not chastised.
Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.