Compensation is never a win

Mike Benner, APIL chief executive:

A young mum and keen rugby player left paraplegic, a waitress rushed to A&E with severe chemical burns, and a man who hit a pothole which resulted in a four-year legal battle. What do they all have in common?

These are all people who have made headlines in the past year because their lives have been shattered as a result of negligence. And yet newspapers still described each settlement as a “win”.

Whether the amount is £5,000 or £5 million, compensation is not a prize. It is right that people are cared for when their injury could, and should, have been avoided.

Years of learning to walk again after a spinal injury; round the clock care for a baby who should never have been born with cerebral palsy; hoists and pulleys so that you can move around your own home are all very real things that compensation could help to provide. It can also cover some of the money you could not earn while you were injured so that you can keep a roof over your head and food on the table.

I am reminded of a firefighter who was severely injured while training at work. He lost his hand, and subsequently, his career. The compensation he received helped him afford a new prosthetic hand, instead of the one offered by the NHS which was little more than a hook. This went a long way to bringing back a sense of normality for him.

While he couldn’t work because of his injury, the compensation also provided a degree of stability, meaning he could continue to provide for his children. I don’t think anyone would describe what he lost as a “win”, no matter how much compensation he may have been awarded. You can watch his story here.

Most would value a clean bill of health over any amount of compensation in the first instance. But victims of negligence deserve the right to redress. They must be treated with respect and compassion, and remain at the heart of policy making which affects them.

By changing the language we use to talk about people who may be dealing with life shattering injuries, we can help support those people when they need it most. But this is unlikely to happen while compensation is still being misrepresented as a “win”.

To discuss them in terms of winners, quite literally, adds insult to injury.