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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Has the UK gone litigation mad?
Doctors are complaining that personal injury lawyers are putting patients' lives at risk.
They say solicitors have been swamping hospitals with requests for X-rays of clients making personal injury claims, putting more strain on resources.
In some cases, lawyers are demanding to see full sets of records in order to 'fish' for further work, doctors claim.
Recently a woman who tripped on a driveway and hurt her elbow while delivering junk mail has won her legal case and could gain up to £45,000.
More than 80,000 personal injury claims cases are launched every year, with fees and damages costing an estimated £7 billion a year.
Has US-style litigation gone crazy in Britain? Or are people simply more aware of their rights and exercising them?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Our infatuation with the "ambulance
chasing" society created by
America has gone far enough. It
seems nowadays that no one is
safe from it. Of course it is a fact
of life that we all make mistakes and I do
think that in some cases people
should be compensated for major
medical blunders, but it seems to
me that if we had a little less
litigation in the NHS, then we could
save a lot of money which could be
ploughed into recruiting new doctors
and nurses and improving the
Can someone please tell me how I can sue Blair for the emotional distress his forsaken election promises have caused me?
We must take responsibility for our actions and stop the "It's somebody else's fault" syndrome!
Ian Vickery, UK
Perhaps one way to end this lunacy is for the juries involved in assessing damages to take a long slow look at the claimant before awarding ridiculously high amounts in compensation. Although some medical awards MAY be realistic how can anyone justify awards of around £5000 per hour for wrongful arrest of someone with a string of convictions, no reputation to uphold and no income.
If the profits on suing were not so high the practice would become less attractive perhaps.
Douglas Kay, U.S.A.(English)
I wonder how many of the people currently suing for compensation would have had the medical treatment if they had had to sign a non-litigation disclaimer beforehand. I suspect the answer is: Most of them. The medical people in this country do the best they can under the conditions they find themselves in. EVERYONE makes mistakes from time to time. Why don't we just get off the litigation kick, get off the backs of these people, and just be thankful that we have such dedicated people to fall back on at the same time.
We are becoming more and more like the US. In the end, you and I will be paying for the claims because our insurance premiums will skyrocket. The only beneficiaries will be the solicitors! The government should step in before it's too late.
Rodger Edwards, UK
When are the courts going to start telling people they have to be responsible for themselves? Tripping in a front garden delivering junk mail does not constitute carelessness or neglect on behalf of the house owner but that of the person walking on it. Being honest and careful now becomes second best against greed and carelessness. She should have been sued for being clumsy and greedy. The law needs to wake up and leave the US ideas to the US.
It seems that hospitals are not flexing their administrative muscles and using the exception clauses open to them. They could ask on what grounds full records are required due to the disproportionate effort it would entail and then offer only to copy items specific to the enquiry. They should demand the return of expensive items such as x-rays by a given date - are there rules about the return and charges for non-return? I don't think so. I find it hard to believe that originals are being 'forced' out of the hands of the rightful owners. I hope the government implement a more suitable fee in plenty of time before the cap on costs runs out, too.
British law needs to be changed, to enshrine the concept that an individual has a duty of care to themselves. If they are stupid, or simply careless, no one else has to compensate them.
AC, UK and USA
No win, No fee. Who scrapped 'Legal Aid'? Blame the government for the growing annoying adverts and claim people. But at the end of the day why shouldn't we claim if a company causes us harm through negligence or should we let them get away with it?
People who have a dangerous driveway or dangerous animals should install a post box at the end of their driveway, padlock their front gate and put notices up detailing the nature of the danger. If compensation payments are considered unreasonable both sides should have the right to appeal.
The compensation culture has certainly got out of control. Recently, I bought a bag of mixed salted nuts from my local supermarket. On the back was printed the legend: "Warning! May contain nuts!"
When someone unsuccessfully sues a hospital, the costs of defending the claim cannot be reclaimed, no matter how outrageous it is. If a claim succeeds, the money comes straight out of the patient care budget. Where else could it come from?
Litigation is hammering nails into the NHS' coffin.
Duncan, UK in US
When lawyers apply for medical records they should be charged the actual cost plus at least £100.00, which is still not in line with the costs they would charge for a similar service.
This would help to offset the cost and disruption to the hospital and would enable the original records to be kept where they are most needed, as only copies could then be forwarded.
I think it's sad that people can't just accept that, just sometimes, life isn't fair. It doesn't mean someone else is always responsible and should be forced to pay out disproportionate amounts of money!
As a Brit living in the USA, I can safely say you have a long way to go before attaining the level of 'crazy litigation' over here. A glance in my local phone book reveals 160 pages of listings for lawyers and 60 for doctors. My colleagues in the medical profession now refer to three classes of drugs; carcinogens (which may cause cancer) teratogens (which may cause birth defects and litigens (which always result in law suits). The current litigious environment does make for some amusing product labelling. My coffee comes with a warning that it is hot, my iron bears a sticker informing me that it 'may be hot when set on hot'. Curiously, the only products that seem to lack a warning label are firearms.
Whilst there are many genuine cases the only people to blame for things getting out of hand are the ones who uphold the growing tide of crazy claims.
Everybody loses - higher insurance, more paranoia, more lawyers. I enquired about compensation in the UK when a motorist opened his door in front of me, knocking me off my bicycle and breaking my collar bone. I was told that a minimum would be £1000. The lawyer implied I would need to pretend to be unable to work for two weeks - so I didn't take the matter any further.
I think the whole system has gone crazy. Every other advert on TV now is for a claims company
clawing for work. Are we going the way of the States and seeing ambulance chases on every street corner? I'm afraid in today's media-hyped and money-hungry world we will and that is far from healthy.
The Devil makes work for idle hands. There are too many lawyers already touting for this sort of work. When two of the most contemptible industries get together (Insurance and Lawyers) someone is ripe for a plucking.
Here in the United States no one knows their rights, so we're constantly threatening each other with litigation. This is especially true with the murky intellectual property laws.
People have to take a certain amount of responsibility for themselves. The cases of people successfully suing companies because their coffee burned them, or they tripped over a loose paving stone a ridiculous. If the coffee wasn't hot the same person would have complained about it.
My advice to people all over the world is not to take what your doctor tells you as if they were words of God - look at it critically just like you would if the mechanic were fixing your car. And when they say that giving explanations put other patients lives at risk, be very, very sceptical.
Where the Yanks have gone, the Brits are sure to follow. Every unsavoury bit of American life unerringly finds its way to the UK. This is just the latest piece of unpleasantness. Who do these litigants think is paying the bill? The insurance companies?
Tony Hague, England
It seems to me that the worst offender is the "No Win, No Fee" claims companies (which don't take on cases that aren't likely to win) who appear to be draining money out of the local county councils simply because someone tripped on the pavement.
Born and raised in UK I saw a reasonable National Health system. However, it has deteriorated over the years. I have lived in the US for 20 years and, although health care is expensive, it is better than the UK in many respects.
The only thing I'm worried about is that someone might sue me for their own misfortune. Having to fork out multiple thousands for someone who has simply tripped over a driveway is unbelievably stupid.
Too many people think that the world owes them something. Unfortunately in capitalist societies this something is construed as money. But why is this so? Why should you receive money when you trip and fall on someone's driveway? If someone is really damaged by such a fall, surely a solid network of counsellors and decent medical care is more appropriate. Get up, stop crying and don't be so greedy should be the message we put out.
In some ways, it is about time. For a long time legal action has been out of bounds for the average person in the UK. You get screwed and there is nothing you can do about it. The legal system in the UK was always about criminal and rich people.
As a UK radiologist, I am very worried at the requests we get from solicitors demanding copies of the WHOLE of patient notes, when clearly only a single item is possibly relevant. Most patients would not expect lawyers to do this, and do not realise that their most personal medical details are being pored over by non-health-professionals. There is clearly a case for an system of "informed consent" whereby patients should be told why records are requested, who will be poring over them, which records are to be retrieved, and any possible harm to themselves that might be caused.
It is just the nature of today's society unfortunately. If something bad happens to someone then someone else must be made accountable for it in a court of law. It's easy money really
15 Jun 01 | Health
Hospitals 'swamped' by X-ray requests
15 Nov 00 | UK
'Compensation culture' here to stay
15 Nov 00 | UK
Compensation culture: Who's to blame?
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