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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.

Your reaction

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 overall service.
Leon, U.K.

Can someone please tell me how I can sue Blair for the emotional distress his forsaken election promises have caused me?
Kevin, England

We must take responsibility for our actions and stop the "It's somebody else's fault" syndrome!
Caron, England

People who trip over paving stones and the like should really watch where they are going

Ian Vickery, UK
People who trip over paving stones and the like should really watch where they are going, perhaps they have a responsibility too? Where a claim is false and malicious, and is proved so, then they should be subject to some form of censure never mind the "no fee no win" scenario. Before we descend into farce the whole legal morass of civil litigation needs to be examined by a Commission.
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.
Barry, Hampshire, England

Nip it in the bud now

Douglas Kay, U.S.A.(English)
If this litigation trend is not stopped before it gets out of hand like it is here in the US the cost of hospital treatment will become excessive like it is here. The reason of course is simple, the premiums for insurance against litigation are very high, and some patients are litigation mad, encouraged of course by greedy lawyers, they follow ambulances to hospital in order to drum up trade. Nip it in the bud now.
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.
Gary Dale, England

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.
K. Hyatt, UK

People with a genuine claim must never be discouraged from pursuing their case

Rodger Edwards, UK
People with a genuine claim must never be discouraged from pursuing their case. On the other hand, vexatious claims need to be taken in hand very quickly before the legal, medical and insurance systems grind to a halt. My solution? Move to a genuine "no win, no fee" system, in which unsuccessful solicitors carry ALL costs, including those of the defence, without being allowed to force clients to take out insurance. I am sure that the spirit of moderation would prevail again in a very short time...
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.
Bruce Dudley-Staite, UK

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.
Wendy, UK

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.
John Atkins, England

When will this litigation madness stop?

AC, UK and USA
When will this litigation madness stop? Lawyers should have the personal integrity not to feed their clients' egos by encouraging them to file malicious and vindictive cases. Additionally, it's not just big companies that fall victim to this compensation culture we live in. The courts are increasingly being used as a venue for litigants to seek revenge against other individuals. It just has to stop! The legal system needs to weed out these nonsensical claims before they ever come to court. This is the only way that it will get back the credibility it used to have. All we want is for the courts to use common sense!
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?
Gareth, England

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.
John Ley, London, England

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!"
Khan, UK

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.
Steve, UK

Clearly the person who fell over delivering mail had been inadequately trained

Duncan, UK in US
The "Beware of the Dog" sign will give way to the "Enter at Your Own Risk" sign as more people try to protect themselves against malicious claimants. Clearly the person who fell over delivering mail had been inadequately trained and so I see a counter claim from the defendant - maybe under the Rights of Third Parties Act. God help us!
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.
John Whitmore, England

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!
Michael Figg, UK

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.
Andrew Bradford, USA

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.
John Pothecary, Thailand

Too much litigation is destroying trust and goodwill between people

Eddie, England
We have already gone too far in the direction of litigation at the drop of a hat. Witness all those tasteless TV commercials egging viewers on to make a claim for ridiculous amounts for what often are simply accidents. Too much litigation is destroying trust and goodwill between people, and increasing suspicion. We should stop now and not allow it to go further.
Eddie, England

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.
Joe, Belgium

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.
Dave, UK

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.
It will be Joe Public or the ordinary taxpayer that gets hit with the resulting higher premiums as the actual productive people in society have to 'cover their backs' against increasing claims.
Chris Norton, UK

In some ways, it is about time

Duncan Taylor, A Brit in Virginia, USA
It is about time the law was available to all not just the wealthy. However, people have to realise that using the "where there is blame - there's a claim" brigade will lead to an increase in the cost of living, as insurance will go up, employers will need more insurance which will put the price of goods or services up. In the end we will all pay.
Vernon, England

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.
We're under the assumption that if your adversary can hire a more expensive lawyer, you're bound to lose, so we just try not to anger people more wealthy than ourselves.
Justin Sante, USA

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.
These petty claims will only cause everyone to pay more on insurance.
James Mitchell, UK

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.
Selva Appasawmy, Mauritius

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?

Every unsavoury bit of American life unerringly finds its way to the UK.

Tony Hague, England
Not likely. The insurance companies simply pass it on to you and I in increased premiums. There is nothing like a bit of human greed to dull the senses.
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.
Once they win they take a good percentage of the winnings as well as getting their legal fees paid as the council lost the case. This is fraud. I work hard and like most people pay my taxes. I don't like to see it handed out to "No Win, No Fee" scams.
Mark Delaney, UK, Bucks

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.
Legal action against doctors who malpractice is a good thing. It makes some of the "would be" quacks think twice before they act (or ignore). Not all, but some. You need that security too. Sue them when they do wrong.
Clive Hill, USA

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.
Richard Cumberland, UK

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.
Neil, UK

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.
The US on the other hand has gone too far. It is so easy to file a petition and make someone else's life a misery. Min costs for an attorney start at 2k. Your choices are to either pay huge sums for insurance or risk being wiped out just because you made a small mistake and bumped someone else's car. More litigation in the UK is a good thing. We just need to learn when to stop. Something the Yanks never did.
Duncan Taylor, A Brit in Virginia, USA

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.
Dave Harvey, UK

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
Jeff Scholey, UK

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