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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 12:42 GMT
See you in court
Life is full of dangers to life, limb and sanity. But lawyers are on hand to make sure victims of life's slings and arrows can claim compensation, writes Chris Horrie.

Ever have one of those days when everything goes wrong? What would life be like if you could make someone pay up for it? BBC News Online follows a nightmare day in the life of a composite compensation citizen.

0700: Waking up

Compensation range 50 - 1,000 (Supply of Goods Act)

Sleeping in the wrong sort of bed can cause back and neck problems, and an over-loud alarm clock may cause whiplash injuries.

Judy Owen pic
Judy Owen: Sacked for wearing trousers
But the 1994 Supply of Goods Act gave consumers the right to demand damages if they are supplied with faulty, dangerous or malfunctioning goods. So if you were injured, it might be worth speaking to your lawyer.

0705: Getting dressed

Compensation range 50,000 - 100,000 (Industrial tribunal)

Much here depends on gender. Women in some occupations can limber up for a day of compensatable victimisation by opting for a pair of trousers.

Last year Judy Owen claimed compensation after she was forced to resign from her job with the Professional Golfers' Association because she would not wear a skirt.

There is yet to be a case of a man claiming compensation after being sacked for wearing a dress. But doubtless this is just a matter of time.

0715: Going downstairs

Compensation range 50 - 5,000 (Supply of Goods Act)

Houses are full of hazards and the most common type of accident is a fall on the stairs (or, for the more elderly, the danger of falling out of bed). There are about 2.7 million accidents in the home each year which result in a visit to hospital. Falls account for 40% of the non-fatal injuries and 46% of all deaths.

Sadly, an injury in the home is likely to be thought of by the legal system as your own fault. So be extra careful. There is not much compensation on offer...

Glass breaks and shatters and in doing so can break into numerous pieces, some of which can spread far from the point of impact

Department of Trade and Industry on milkbottle danger least until you reach the kitchen breakfast table - bristling as it is with negligently designed tin-openers, lethal electric kettles and exploding pop-up toasters - all cause for complaint and potential compensation under the 1994 Act.

0718: Opening the post

Compensation range 1,000 - 50,000 (Personal injury, negligence)

A cheque arrives from your package holiday operator for mishap during a recent winter break - 5,000 in respect of a coconut which fell on your head while you were sitting under a palm tree.

Your personal injury compensation lawyers have followed the precedent set by Jean Gratton who sued Airtours after a coconut fell on her chest while on holiday in the Caribbean. She got 1,700.

Travel operators are now so worried about compensation claims that they have established a 1bn "fighting fund" to contest cases and make pay outs.

Whitemoor prison
Whitemoor prison: Damages claim after jailbreak beatings

There is also a postcard from a distant cousin, a former prison inmate who, following the example of a former IRA terrorist, is suing the Prison Service for injuries sustained during an attempted jail-break.

0720: Breakfast

Compensation range 50 - 5,000 (Supply of Goods Act, personal injury)

The main compensation news here is the danger of injury from badly designed packaging which, according to the Department of Trade and Industry results in thousands of compensatable injuries every year.

One particular hazard to look out for is the glass milk bottle and, in fact, glass objects in general.

Smooth and therefore dangeous when wet says DTI

The danger arises, the Department of Trade and Industry says, because: "Typically milk bottles are left on the doorstep where they can get wet. They are very smooth and slippery and therefore are frequently dropped."

But there are no known cases of people suing their milkman for supplying overly-slippery milk bottles... yet.

0730: Sending the kids off to school

Compensation Range 500 - 500,000 (Human Rights Act, personal injury)

Last year's Human Rights Act established a legal claim to a "good quality education" and there have already been legal threats and demands for compensation from schools said to be failing to deliver a good education to pupils.

So as you are sending the kids off to school brief them to take sworn statements providing evidence of sub-standard teaching, overcrowded classes, leaky buildings and smelly changing rooms - all part of a possible compensation goldmine if they later fail their GCSEs or fail to gain entry to Harvard University.

At the same time be sure to brief the kids about the personal injury compensation aspects of falling over in the playground, getting a rubber stuck up their nose or getting bruised legs from playing hockey.

0745: Getting to work

Compensation range 10 - 500 (fare rebates)

Train companies now routinely pay compensation for inadequate service. But so far only token sums have been involved. It can not be long, surely, until a massive "class action" featuring the Whole Country v The Entire Rail System leads to a bonanza pay-out.

0830: Work

Compensation range 50,000 - 250,000 (Industrial tribunal, personal injury, Human Rights Act)

Stress, bullying, sex discrimination, injuries sustained from overuse or incorrect use of computers, chairs, keyboard, mice, photocopiers and other horrors make the workplace a personal injury hell and, therefore, compensation paradise.

Jan Howell picture
Stressed out - Jan Howell

Last year bank manager Leslie North was awarded 100,000 after suffering a nervous breakdown when a "hostile boss" reduced him to tears.

Working for a local authority or public sector body appears to be particularly threatening to physical and mental health.

Earlier this year local government officer Randy Ingram won 203,000 after his life was "ruined" by work as a gipsy site manager for Worcester City council. And primary school teacher Jan Howell was last year awarded 254,362 in compensation after showing that her job had driven her towards a nervous breakdown.

The year 2000 saw a total of 320m awarded in compensation as a result of work-related stress.

1300: Lunchtime

Compensation range 50 - 5,000 (Supply of Goods Act, personal injury)

All the dangers of breakfast apply, but in public. Therefore somebody else and not yourself will be liable if there is a problem - opening up much more promising compensation possibilities.

1400: Back at work

Compensation range 50,000 - 1,000,000 (Industrial tribunal, personal injury, Human Rights Act, Defamation Act)

Since your job is damaging your health, you might consider a change of employer.

Belinda Coote
Deserved reference - Belinda Coote

The compensation possibilities here surround the nature of your boss's reference letter.

Last year one woman, Belinda Coote, bagged 195,000 after her employer refused to supply a letter of reference.

She might have got even more if her boss wrote an unjustifiably negative reference. This would have counted as libel (defamation in a permanent form) and might have entitled her to "damages" for loss of reputation.

1700: Mobile phone call / doctor's appointment

Compensation range 50,000 - 1,000,000 (Public health liability, medical negligence, personal injury, Human Rights Act)

You book your place in the impending, possible class action against the mobile phone industry by using your mobile to call the GP's surgery.

American lawyer Peter Angelos earned $4.2bn in damages for cigarette addicts from tobacco companies before announcing he was taking on the mobile phone companies over fears that they can cause brain tumours.

You arrange an emergency examination with your GP, who is unlikely to give categorical advice because of danger of your suing him for misdiagnosis. GPs are now 13 times more likely to face negligence claims than 10 years ago.

2300: Bedtime

Compensation range: Unknown

Sex is full of every imaginable kind of hazard - though not many attract compensation... yet. Last year a woman attempted to sue Durex for 120,000 when a condom split and she became pregnant.

But a judge threw out the case.

2400: Sleep

Compensation range: Zero

You fall asleep. A Franz Kafka-style nightmare set in a sinister world of dungeons, castles and law courts where everyone in the whole world is suing everybody else slowly gives way to a heavenly scenario where there are no lawyers at all...

...but it is only a dream.

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See also:

04 Dec 00 | Education
Stressed teacher wins 250,000
28 Dec 00 | Business
Huge lawsuits over mobile phones
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