Angus Logan: Personal injury culture risks making us all losers

RECENT publicity about stress at work cases involving teachers brings into focus the old chestnut of whether we have a “compensation culture” or not.

At one time I was of the view that we did not but, some years on, I think we may now have. Of course, the field is a lucrative one for no-win no-fee lawyers eager to take on easy road traffic and accident-at-work claims. So much so that in many accidents involving union members or motorists, unbeknown to the union member or insured motorist, the union or insurer are not actually backing the case financially but leaving the lawyers to whom they have referred the case to progress the claim effectively at their own risk.

The lawyers do not mind because they are acquiring a “no win, no fee” case that will most likely be won, with attendant generous fees. If the odd case is more difficult legally and might not be won, the lawyer is unlikely to risk progressing it further. He will thus take no risk with a stateable but not cast-iron case. And yet the client may not know the behind-the-veil financial factors, i.e. the expenses or cost issues affecting the decision to pursue or drop his case. This scenario is one which should probably be looked at by the Office of Fair Trading to help regulate this part of the personal injury market.

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It is sad to see young lawyers being quoted after fatal accident cases as if compensation were in any way real consolation for the bereaved families of victims. Compensation for victims of serious injuries is very important but should not assume “lottery” like proportions, with its adverse effect on our sense of social priorities.

It is a sign of the times that damages lawyers are almost treated as national heroes. Certainly, their involvement in Scottish national life is pervasive. But it is doubtful whether this trend is good for the Scottish psyche, far less the economy. One way to rein in the personal injuries culture might be to give relatively low value cases their rightful place in the Sheriff Courts, removing them from the Court of Session where they are expensively run on an almost factory farm basis.

• Angus Logan WS is policy director of Ardwell Policy Forum 2020