The personal injury market has suffered a big image crisis over the last few years with claims companies springing up all over the place and men in tents accosting you on street corners to ask whether your limp is accident related! As a result, people can often be reticent in approaching a solicitor as they fear that they will be criticised by their peers for being greedy or claim obsessed.

Indeed, many argue that England is adopting America’s ‘Compensation Culture’ and that nowadays people can sue for tripping over a matchstick. They call for a return to the good old days when an accident was no more than that – just an accident.

So have times changed and is the English law on compensation taking a turn for the worse? Absolutely not. The law of negligence is hundreds of years old and the basic principles have not greatly changed, save for the need to deal with modern problems and events. You simply cannot get compensation for a genuine accident which was just unfortunate and nobody’s fault, however bad your injuries.

In order to succeed with a claim against another person you will have to firstly show that they owed you a duty of care. By way of example, a driver owes a duty of care to all other road users and pedestrians. You then have to show that the person owing you the duty of care has breached that duty. Thus, the driver has pulled out of a side road without giving way and has collided with your car. He owed you a duty as a fellow road user to drive with care and reasonable caution and he has clearly breached that duty by pulling out when it was unsafe to do so. Finally, you have to show that you have sustained an injury as a direct result of the other person’s breach of duty.

If all of these elements can be proved – remember that the onus is on the claimant to prove their case – then your claim will succeed. You should not feel guilty about submitting a claim for compensation for injuries sustained as you have a legal right, deep rooted in history, to make such a claim. People have to be responsible for their actions and innocent parties should not bear physical and financial upheaval unnecessarily.

An accident may leave a person so badly injured that they cannot work again and it will be necessary for them to seek compensation not only for their injury but also for the years ahead without any income. Why should they suffer this burden themselves when their demise was down to the neglect of another?

The law in America is different to the law of this country and each state can have their own set of rules and laws, leading to wide divergence even within the country. I cannot see a day when people will be allowed by English courts to make spurious claims and I shall continue to encourage people with genuine claims to pursue them with their heads held high. The right to be compensated when you have been wronged should never be taken away from you.

CAPTION: Claire Kirwan. Partner, Personal Injury and Medical Negligence Team

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