The government is to extend the upper limit of the road traffic accident (RTA) portal to £25,000, while similar fixed-fee schemes are to be introduced into other, as yet unspecified, areas of personal injury, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
In a speech on health and safety to small businesses and entrepreneurs in Maidenhead yesterday, Mr Cameron said the moves would tackle the compensation culture and address businesses’ fear of being sued for trivial or excessive claims.
“This coalition has a clear New Year’s resolution: to kill off the health and safety culture for good,” he said.
However, there is little flesh on the announcement, which is the first sign of the government’s response to the Solving disputes in the county court consultation that closed last June.
All that is definite right now is the extension of the RTA portal limit from the current £10,000 and that the model will be used for other areas of personal injury work.
Legal Futures understands that this is very likely to include both employer’s and public liability, but more work is still needed before deciding whether industrial disease and clinical negligence cases will be caught too.
It is unknown at the moment whether the new regimes will be for cases worth up to £10,000 or £25,000. Extending the portal to £25,000 also brings the Jackson reforms into play as the judge wanted to see fixed fees across the fast-track.
The detail will be revealed when the consultation response is finally published. Originall
y slated for October, the Ministry of Justice said yesterday that it will be made public “soon”. Minister Jonathan Djanogly told Parliament last month that it was postponed “due to ongoing discussions within government”.
Other reforms to health and safety more broadly include changing the law on strict liability for civil claims so that businesses are no longer automatically at fault if something goes wrong, rationalisation of the law in the area, while from 6 April businesses will no longer have to report accidents in the workplace unless an employee is off work for seven days or more.
David Bott, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “We have grave concerns that the government is pushing through too many swathing changes to the system at once without proper consideration as to the implications for injured people.
“The danger is that workers could be exposed to an unnecessary risk of injury and then be left with a civil justice system which cuts them off from their right to full and fair redress.”
He added that “it is far too early” to consider extending the portal “as it still has teething problems and remains far from being the finished article”.
Andrew Dismore, who co-ordinates the Access to Justice Action Group (AJAG), said it would oppose the changes as its own research showed that 48% of people suffering accidents at work do not make a claim even when they know someone else is to blame. “Cutting ‘red tape’ will only endanger workers,” he argued.
Mr Dismore predicted that people with claims under £25,000 will struggle to find a solicitor under a fixed-fee scheme.
“It is suggested the fixed fee for running an employer’s liability case or public liability case could be as low as £400. This very low fee makes running these types of cases completely unviable. There is an irreducible minimum of work which must be done which must be reflected in the fee,” he said.