As the end of the year draws in, the Personal Injury Team at Curzon Green recap below recent changes and key developments in the personal injury sector this year so far, to keep you up to date:
1. DAMAGES CLAIM PORTAL
As part of HMCTS’s goal to digitise the courts, the Damages Claims Portal (“DCP”) was introduced and became mandatory for claimants that are legally represented to use from 4 April 2022 for any claims which fall within its scope. The DCP covers most county court claims for damages only and includes personal injury claims. The aim of the DCP is to improve efficiency in the county courts and help streamline the system.
The service currently allows claimant solicitors to issue the claim online and access to the service is available 24/7. Defendant solicitors are also able to acknowledge and respond to the claim through the portal.
HMCTS has announced the DCP issued more than 23,221 claims in the first 6 months of 2022 and is continuing to develop the service further, with proposals for applications to be lodged online and for judges to be able to provide case management directions after directions questionnaires are filed.
What does this mean for claimants?
The impact of this procedural change is any claims which fall within the scope of Practice Direction 51ZB must now be issued online and should no longer be sent to the court to issue via the paper route. It is important for claimant solicitors to be aware of the DCP, as failure to issue online may result in the court refusing to issue the claim form. In some cases, this could cause limitation issues. Only claimants that are legally represented are required to use this service, so any litigants in person can still issue claims by sending papers to court in the traditional way.
2. INCREASE TO SMALL CLAIMS LIMIT FOR PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS
The small claims limit sets the minimum amount a claim for compensation must be worth, in order to be able to recover your legal fees in a personal injury claim. If the value of a claim falls within the small claims limit, the claim would be allocated to the small claims track in any subsequent court proceedings, where claimants are unlikely to be able to recover their legal fees.
The small claims limit for whiplash injuries in all road traffic accident was increased from £1,000 to £5,000 on 31 May 2021. Alongside this increase, the Ministry of Justice also introduced the Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal, which was intended for claimants to be able to represent themselves in court (more on this below).
This year, on 6 April 2022, the small claims limit was also increased for all other types of personal injury claims too (such as EL/PL claims, accidents at work, any trips or slip accidents, injuries caused by defective products etc) from £1,000 to £1,500.
The rationale behind this increase is to try to curb the number of low value personal injury claims being brought before the court. The increased limit applies to all accidents which occurred after 6 April 2022, but does not apply to accidents which occurred prior to this date.
What does this mean for claimants?
The practical impact is that a personal injury claim for damages must now be worth more than £1,500 in order for the claimant to be able to recover any legal fees from the opposing party. This will lead to more claims being processed as small claims and therefore fewerclaimants will be able to be represented by a solicitor, as they will be unable to recover their legal costs. Accidents which result in considerable or complicated injuries such as fractures, back or head injuries or concussion and longer-term symptoms are unlikely to be affected.
3. ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENT CLAIM TARIFF UNCERTAINTY FOR MIXED INJURY CASES
The Whiplash Reform Programme 2021 implemented on 31 May 2021 created a fixed tariff of compensation for those who suffer minor injuries including whiplash that last up to 2 years as a result of a road traffic accident. The programme was developed as part of the reforms contained in the Civil Liability Act 2018 (‘the Act’) and applies to any road traffic accident which occurs on or after 31 May 2021. The changes do not apply to any accident that took place before 31 May 2021. The tariffs were set by the Lord Chancellor and are reviewed around every three years.
A “whiplash injury” is defined by the Act as “an injury of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder that is… a sprain, strain, tear, rupture or lesser damage of a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder, or an injury of soft tissue associated with a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder.”
The vast majority of whiplash claims and other soft tissue injuries (such as cuts and bruises) will be valued at less than £5,000 and are suitable for the OIC portal. If a claimant’s injuries are more severe (such as broken bones, effecting internal organs or head injuries), then these will fall outside the tariff system. Where the OIC portal applies, it is not possible to recover legal costs from the other side.
The rationale behind the tariff system was to provide certainty and consistency to claimants about the amount of personal injury damages they will receive, to ensure proportionate compensation is paid and that costs are controlled. The programme was also designed to encourage claimants to pursue whiplash claims without the assistance of legal representation.
The government announced in March 2022 that it was continuing to monitor the impact of the Whiplash Reform Programme for road traffic accidents but shelved plans for further reform. It also confirmed it would not push ahead with proposals for personal injury lawyers to include referral sources in the claim notification form.
What does this mean for claimants?
Whilst the tariffs help provide clarity on valuing whiplash claims, the tariff system is less helpful for cases where all the claimant’s injuries do not fall squarely within its parameters e.g., where a claimant suffers a whiplash injury and a non-whiplash injury. The tariffs include an additional sum for minor psychological injuries such as travel anxiety, however, it is not clear at present what happens if a claimant suffers whiplash injuries in addition to other injuries, such as more severe psychological reactions. The OIC service are designed to be used for mixed injuries or even non-whiplash injuries on their own, unless the overall value of the injury element is worth more than £5,000.
The Act provides that where a claimant suffers injuries in addition to whiplash, the court is not prevented from awarding damages that reflect the combined effect of the injuries sustained. This essentially means the courts have complete discretion how mixed injuries cases are to be valued and will determine this on a case-by-case basis at the point at which a case is heard at a final hearing. Legal representatives await a reported case to provide clarity on the approach to use for these mixed injury cases at present and the uncertainty is holding up a lot of claims, which we expect will continue until there is a test case.
4. 16TH EDITION TO JUDICIAL COLLEGE GUIDELINES
On 11 April 2022, the 16th edition of the ‘Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment General Damages in Personal Injury Cases’ (‘JCG’) was published.
The JCG are the go-to guide for litigators and the courts when assessing the value of the general damages for personal injury and clinical negligence claims.
The guide is formulated based on damages figures the courts award in practice and aims to achieve consistency across the board. It serves as a useful resource for legal practitioners to refer to when quantifying claims, in addition to case law.
The key changes in a nutshell are:
– The updated guidelines figures reflect a 6.56% increase in RPI generally since the previous 15thedition;
– The Simmons v Castle 10% uplift column has been removed (save for in Chapter 6) on the basis there are likely to be few cases which an uplift in figures will be relevant;
– A new chapter has been added for upper limb injuries, separating them from orthopaedic injuries where they were previously included and now includes injuries such as industrial diseases and ‘cold injuries’ (such as frostnip and frostbite);
– A new section has been introduced for sexual and physical abuse, following recommendations by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse;
– There has been a revision in the approach to assessing damages to reproductive organs, which previously focused almost exclusively upon loss of fertility in women, but now recognises injuries of loss of sexual function, sexual dysfunction and associated psychiatric injuries relating in both men and women; and
– The Whiplash Tariff is included, though it is unclear how the courts will assess general damages in those cases where the claimant suffers multiple injuries.
Legal practitioners should ensure that they refer to the latest guidelines in the 16th edition of the JCG whenever considering general damages for personal injury.
5. REMOTE EXAMINATIONS ENDED FOR WHIPLASH CASES
Following the government ending Covid-19 rules earlier this year, MedCo restored the ban on remote examinations for medical reports. From 1 July 2022, all examinations for medical reports are required to be in person again, as they were before the pandemic. Remote examinations were originally banned in 2020 to reduce the risk of fraud and to ensure doctors did not diagnose claimants with more serious injuries.
The MedCo board have recognised that a small group of claimants may still be required to isolate as a result of Covid-19. Where a claimant is vulnerable there may be provision for them to have a remote examination and the report should record the nature of the vulnerability and explain why that has resulted in the examination being carried out remotely.
6. TERMINOLOGY CHANGES FOLLOWING KING CHARLES III SUCCESSION
On 8 September 2022, Buckingham Palace announced the sad news of the passing of Her Majesty The Queenand tributes to Her Majesty have flooded the nation. As a result, the Crown Office announced some notable terminology changes to the legal profession which include the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court being renamed as the King’s Bench Division. The Queen’s Counsel (QC’s) are also now known as King’s Counsel.