Partner and Head of Wills & Estate Planning at Andrew & Co Solicitors Helen Newson writes...
Exposing the 'Compensation Culture' Myth
A few weeks ago I was asked by BBC Radio Lincolnshire to comment on a local news story about school compensation claims.
Therefore I was interested to see another story on BBC Look North and Radio Humberside yesterday revealing the millions of pounds councils in East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire had paid out in compensation and legal fees for injuries sustained in schools.
A BBC Freedom of Information request revealed 27 claims have cost East Riding of Yorkshire Council £600,533 in pay outs and fees in the last five years and in North Lincolnshire, six claims totalled £239,100.
In North East Lincolnshire 14 claims had a total expenditure of £156,485.
Some of the examples stated included a primary school child who was hurt in a game of tag and received £1,100, but the case cost the local authority £14,716 in legal fees.
In North Lincolnshire, there was a £2,451 claim for a student who suffered bruising and a sprain after slipping in a school hall.
It’s worth saying that despite these two examples, claims for children against schools are rare. In Lincolnshire just five out of the 38 claims were regarding children – most of whom had suffered fairly serious injuries.
To put it in perspective, in the last three years Andrew & Co has made claims for two children who had their fingers cut off by doors slamming shut in two separate incidents because the schools had not complied with legislation regarding anti-slam and anti-finger trapping devices.
Both children were under seven when the incident occurred. We have also dealt with a claim for a seriously fractured arm caused by faulty play equipment. The child was aged about eight at the time and, now aged 11, has had to have major surgery to try and straighten the arm. These are not trivial injuries.
When I was at school I broke my fingers and ribs playing rugby but I did not make a claim and wouldn’t have expected to do so. However, if a serious injury occurs caused by poor supervision, then of course the child deserves compensation.
In the news report yesterday the Chair of the Campaign for Real Education Chris McGovern, said he thinks we have a ‘compensation culture’.
I would argue however that solicitors do not encourage claims beyond normal advertising. We work on a no win, no fee basis which means we do not get paid if the claim isn’t successful.
In my experience this has not encouraged claims and we certainly do not make opportunist claims; there is either a claim to be made or not. Clients come to me for advice and where there is a right to make a claim we have a duty to say so.