Those who have been injured through the fault of another are entitled to claim compensation. This can be done with the help of a lawyer – and traditionally this would almost certainly be how it would be done. For better or worse, however, the role of professional lawyers in personal injury compensation claims is changing. While there is no doubt they still have a place, the nature of that place has undergone a shift.
Grabbing headlines last month were a whole raft of proposed reforms, currently still under discussion, to the way whiplash claims are handled after a traffic accident. Among other changes, these reforms could see it become possible – even compulsory – for personal injury claims worth up to £5000 to be handled through the Small Claims Court. Barring further disputes and complications, this is a track that does not involve professional legal representation.
The result of this would be essentially the removal of lawyers from lower-value compensation claims and, while the main focus of the proposals is whiplash claims, this would not be limited to the arena of traffic claims. This particular proposal refers to all personal injury claims worth up to £5,000, and as such lawyers would be also be effectively removed in the same way from a workplace injury compensation claim, a medical negligence claim, or indeed any other personal injury case, so long as the value of the claim is £5,000 or less.
This prospect has been greeted with at best mixed reception; some lawyers feel that a route to allow lower-value claims to be handled without their involvement represents the lifting of a burden. Many others, however, fear that the lack of professional legal assistance in these cases will hinder justice, and could lead to more frivolous claims being brought into action without lawyers to nip them in the bud.
Another thing changing the role that lawyers play in injury compensation claims is a new initiative from the NHS which could potentially see medical negligence claims handled through mediation. The new mediation scheme from the NHS Litigation Authority launched this month, and was originally piloted in 2014.
One of the things that is interesting about this scheme is the fact that mediation is a concept that is broadly supported by lawyers for the resolution of many disputes. It is generally faster, cheaper, and more amicable than the courts for all involved. However, a medical negligence claim is quite a different matter from most disputes that would be handled through mediation, and some are uncertain as to whether it is suitable. Yet it is important to note that this scheme does not necessarily exclude lawyers; claimants are entitled to have a lawyer present to advise and represent them if they wish. For cases where the financial settlement is a priority, for example where patients have been left out-of-pocket or facing additional financial needs, this may well be the preferred option.