Oppose Civil Justice Reforms

Julie Blackburn of Thompsons Solicitors warns that government reforms of civil justice will hit vulnerable injured people hard.

A Labour MP famously warned in the 1980s that under Margaret Thatcher’s government people should not be ordinary, young, fall ill or get old.  We can now add, under this Con Dem government, or be injured at work.

For not only is the coalition looking at ways to tear up many of the health and safety laws that protect workers in order to reduce so-called ‘burdens’ on the Tories’ mates in big business, it plans to introduce a new system for claiming compensation for workplace injuries that will rob many of the ability to seek justice for the negligence of their employer.

This isn’t about the cuts to legal aid that have dominated the headlines recently. This is about attacking the ability of unions to offer injured members and their families free legal representation by expert lawyers with no deductions from their damages.

The reforms being published in a Justice Bill soon by Tory Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, will change the way that personal injury claims will be funded. They are complicated, but what they mean is that those injured at work and elsewhere who are not in unions will struggle to find a lawyer prepared to take on their case unless it has at least a 75% prospect of success.

At Thompsons we estimate that up to 25% of people injured at work through no fault of their own and who would get a lawyer under the current legal system will be unable to if the government’s planned reforms of the civil justice system go ahead.

Clarke ignored the overwhelming opposition of the GMB, other unions and victim support groups to the proposals. He plans to end the system of the losing defendant in a personal injury claim, usually an employer, having to pay towards a fund to cover the costs of things such as medical reports in cases which do not succeed, and the costs of investigating those claims.

Lawyers will instead be expected to deduct a proportion of those costs - up to 25% - from claimant’s compensation for the injury and things such as loss of wages. Injury victims will supposedly be paid slightly more damages (much less than 25%) to provide for this. It’s far more likely though that anyone not in a union with a less than dead cert claim, or at least one that will need investigation before it is possible to decide if the claim has a good prospect of success, will be turned away because solicitors will be unable to risk the case losing; Unless of course the individual is able to pay up front for the costs of running the claim.

Take some recent successful injury claims for GMB members. A lorry driver working for a haulage firm recovered £5,500 from his employer after his thumb was crushed as he tried to unload a trailer. He was injured as a result of his employer’s failure to ensure safe work systems and adequate training.
Another member, who needed surgery to correct a hernia caused by lifting lorry batteries and fridge motors weighing up to 40kg each during an eight hour shift at a recycling firm, received compensation. His employer had not risk assessed the work before instructing him to do it and he had to work without lifting equipment or help from colleagues.

And a labourer who was run over by a fork lift truck received over £100,000. The truck’s warning signal and reversing lights were broken, but the claim was complicated because his employer went into administration.

Each of these cases required detailed investigations, court fees, medical reports and other outlays in order to proceed and to prove that the employer was liable for the injuries. Employer’s insurers often refuse to admit liability or to enter into settlement negotiations until court proceedings are issued which pushes up the costs of running the claims. The new regime proposed by the government attacks the ability of unions to pursue such cases.

The government expects either injury victims or unions to make up for the shortfall their proposals will create. This is a straight smash and grab - taking from injury victims and union members in order to hand money to big business, employers and insurance companies in the City.

Little wonder that insurance companies are so keen on the changes and will be laughing all the way to the bank if they are implemented.

GMB Yorkshire & North Derbyshire members should write to their MPs asking them to oppose the Justice Bill and the civil justice reforms it contains. Model letters are available to download below or simply contact the GMB legal department on 0845 337 7777 and request a copy.  You can also find out who your MP is if you click here.

MP LETTER - GMB Injured Member To MP.doc
MP LETTER - GMB non-Injured Member to MP.doc