Victims of negligence rely on the law to provide them with redress. We must be vigilant and ensure it is not eroded

Mike Benner, APIL chief executive:

To have your life shattered, out of the blue, by an injury caused by the negligence of another person is almost unimaginable. To have to pick yourself up and try to rebuild that life must seem like an insurmountable challenge.

It cannot be done without help and, if you are such a victim of negligence, you are entitled to be able to rely on the law to provide it.

But the law can be a fragile thing, subject to erosion by lawmakers in Government who are all too often influenced by false myths and ignorance about the needs and motivations of injured people. A celebrity can sue for libel to protect a dented reputation without criticism. We are currently bombarded with invitations to claim up to £10,000 for being misled about diesel emissions. Yet there is an inexplicable tendency among some to see people who seek redress to help rebuild lives after injury as somehow less deserving.

If there were a league table of people thought to deserve help having suffered at the hands of others, injured people would almost certainly be at the bottom.

At its best, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act of 2015 was a waste of valuable parliamentary time because it did little more than re-state current law. But it was actually more sinister than that. Unedifying debate surrounding this piece of legislation painted a picture of a society rife with cheats and chancers rushing to make a fast buck from the compensation system. This picture was far from the truth and, in its irresponsible denigration of injured people, it was symptomatic of a wider and very damaging pattern.

One of the aims of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (‘LASPO’) Act of 2012 was to make victims of negligence pay for some of their legal costs out of their compensation, effectively saving money for the guilty party. The Government at the time (in)famously said that injured people should have ‘skin in the game’.

Many people don’t understand that compensation is calculated very carefully to ensure it meets the injured person’s practical needs, often for the rest of that person’s life, as well as the pain and suffering caused as a result of the injury – no more, no less. It is not calculated to cover legal costs attached to bringing a claim for compensation. New procedures introduced to mitigate the impact of the LASPO Act on injured people were never enough to start with and have been watered down again by further recent reform. So, the result of this legislation? Injured people are now routinely left without the full compensation they need to rebuild their lives because they have to use part of their damages to help pay for the costs of bringing a claim.

The Government’s justification for the Act was to tackle a so-called ‘compensation culture’ (which had already been proven by several Government studies not to exist) and to restore balance between injured people and those who have caused the injuries. Let’s just think about that for a moment. How can there ever be ‘balance’ between someone who has injured another person and the person who is on the receiving end of that injury? There is only ever a serious imbalance in favour of the guilty party and the LASPO Act just made it worse.

Five years after the introduction of this legislation came the Civil Liability Act – another blow to victims of negligence with catastrophic injuries who need to invest their compensation to try to ensure it lasts for the rest of their lives. In passing this legislation the Government seemed to believe that people with life-changing injuries behave like city stockbrokers, earning much more from stocks and shares than the courts intended. The idea is totally out of touch with reality. And in its obsession with preventing injured people from receiving too much compensation, the Government has only succeeded in making life more difficult for vulnerable people.

Our law-makers and opinion-formers must be helped to understand what it is like to have a life devastated by needless injury and what is needed to help people to rebuild their lives. Only then will injured people find themselves at the very heart of the personal injury process.

This is what the Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign is all about. It matters because negligence wrecks lives. It can happen to anyone. It could happen to you.