The ‘compensation culture’ has been a popular topic of discussion recently with many questioning whether this much-debated-over culture is now becoming far too commonplace in the UK. While the US has gained a certain notoriety for being an openly litigious society, more and more people in the UK are wondering whether this trend is gaining traction in this country too.
The big question seems to be whether there is any evidence to back up this claim or whether it is simply a major misconception that has been fuelling debates all over.
So what exactly is a “compensation culture”?
The term ‘compensation culture’ has been used to define a society that capitalises on the smallest opportunity to seek compensatory damages for any form of personal injury.
This term also supports the argument that accidents cannot occur. If somebody happens to get injured, it is usually due to somebody else’s fault and this person must compensate the victim for the injuries they have sustained. The tendency to claim compensation for injuries can be traced back to the American system where expensive law suits and huge amounts in the form of damages have been making headlines for several years.
Has the Compensation Culture Entered the UK?
For the purpose of compensation, the term ‘injury’ can encompass a wide range of scenarios, from minor bruises to broken bones and brain damage. It refers to any type of injury, however small or big, that keeps you away from work for a period of three days or longer. If you slipped on a wet floor that did not have a sign and you sustained an injury, you may be entitled to claim compensation.
The concept of ‘No Win No Fee’ that is being offered by solicitors across the UK (including ourselves of course) has also encouraged more people to go ahead and file a compensation claim without having to worry about the costs involved. While that is great news for someone who is injured and is justified in filing a case for recompense, it can also encourage frivolous or fraudulent claims that do not have any legal standing.
The Government issued a report a few years ago saying Britain is now being perceived as a society that is far more litigious than it was 20 years ago. All the changes that have been made to civil litigation have encouraged this new culture, especially when it comes to road traffic accident claims. Conditional Fee Agreements have also boosted the confidence of the public and given everybody easier access to the legal system.
The History Behind Compensation and Recent Developments
It may seem like this whole ‘compensation culture’ is a recent development and it didn’t exist 10 years ago. But the truth is that modern law has always provided for a claim to damages that are suffered by a party for any kind of injury or loss that is due to a breach of care by another party. In simple terms, if a person was injured because another person did not provide a certain standard of care, the injured person has always had a right to claim damages or compensation from the defendant.
The legal concept of this phenomenon has gone through many changes and terms over the years but the basis has remained the same – there has to be a duty of care. This duty is generally owed by every person to every other person. There does not have to be a contract or agreement between two parties in order for one person to be liable to the other. When this duty has been breached, the person who has suffered from any injury or loss due to the breach can ask for compensation as long as they establish that the party who injured them was negligent. In legal terms, for negligence to become a valid claim, it has to meet certain stipulated criteria.
The criteria laid down for negligence can be traced back to the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, which took place during the second wave of the Industrial revolution in the 20th century. It was during this period that the need for a basic duty of care was established and it was then built upon. Negligence has often been established by relying more on precedent than on statute. This means that case laws are more often referred to while establishing this law instead of using the various acts and rules that have been put in place.
The case of Anns v Merton in 1978 put forth the tests that should be used while deciding whether a party has been negligent or not. It was a two stage process that was established by this case which considered whether the party that caused the injury could have foreseen it and whether there were any factors that may have mitigated that duty. While this principle was followed in the subsequent years, a ‘three stage test’ to determine the negligence of a party was then established in the 1980s, which included that it was necessary for a ‘reasonable’ duty of care to be assumed by the party in order for them to be considered negligent.
Hence, compensation has been a part of law for many years. The only change is that public awareness has started to increase and more people are starting to use the legal process in order to claim this compensation. Certain new developments, such as the establishment of conditional fee agreements (CFA’s) have also boosted the public’s readiness to go to court and given them “easier” access to the legal system.
Another reason that this field seems to have expanded is because the number of areas in which compensation can be claimed has increased. While many ailments such as post-traumatic stress and emotional stress were earlier not recognised as genuine conditions, they are now considered as valid reasons for a compensation claim.
Understanding the Compensation Culture: Is it Real or Simply a Myth?
People who have reached a certain age will probably look at what they feel to be the ‘compensation culture’ and think ‘This never happened when we were young.’ And yes, we all agree that the legal process was very different and it has developed into something else completely today. Does that mean that the people back then were more submissive or does it mean that people today are looking to play a blame game and try to get as much as they can from a bad situation?
The current system for compensation is not perfect. It does have its flaws and it can often be misused to encourage people to approach the courts with frivolous claims or ask for ridiculous amounts of money. It can tempt people to get greedy and gain money from unfortunate circumstances. Many believe that a person who has suffered an accident should be resting and recuperating instead of following up immediately on an accident claim. The Government has also argued that claims against businesses have often affected the business in the long run and prevented them from growing, even when they have not been at fault.
But even with its criticisms and flaws, the compensation system has ensured that the British legal system is meant for the public. Any person can ask for it without having to worry about costs. It also instils a sense of duty in every citizen because negligence is not tolerated. And a person who is injured because of this negligence does have the right to receive compensation for the harm that has been caused to them.
Facts & Statistics About The Compensation Culture
YouGov recently conducted some research which revealed that, while 29% of people who suffered from an injury in 2013 were likely to claim for compensation, the percentage in 2014 had gone down to 25%.
Research conducted by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) shows that 571,111 people claimed for compensation for a whiplash injury in 2010/11 and this number fell by 4.2% in 2011/12 to 547,405. The same study also shows that nearly 40% of the people who did suffer from a whiplash injury did not claim any kind of compensation for it.
All the research that has been carried out proves that far from moving towards a compensation culture, it looks like the country is moving away from it. Of course, the story would have been very different if compensation claims entailed huge financial costs. However, the concept of ‘no win no fee’ has removed all barriers for people who want to approach the court so the YouGov research has been based on extremely solid and fair grounds.
Compensation is a very delicate topic and it needs to be understood carefully before a person proceeds with a claim. There is no doubt that this concept wasn’t known to most a few decades ago and it is now casually thrown around in conversations without people understanding what the whole process entails. While it could be cumbersome to businesses when they are not at fault, claiming for compensation when you have been injured due to the fault of another person is completely within your right and this does not go against the legal system of the country.