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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
'Why we fight for compensation'
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Online

Plate of chips
The Tories cited the example of a woman who won money after slipping on a chip
The Conservatives have blamed the Human Rights Act for a compensation culture in the UK which has grown "out of all proportion".

But others disagree, saying compensation is a last resort in difficult circumstances, or the only way to force authorities to take their responsibilities seriously.

BBC News Online spoke to one teacher, who does not want to be named, who won 22,000 but said she had pursued compensation in an effort to save her livelihood.

It's not easy to get compensation - right to the last I had the chance I would lose everything, my reputation, everything - it has been three years of horrendous stress
"After being a teacher for 30 years I had an accident lifting a computer that I had taken home to repair.

"I had four months off. I recovered, didn't complain in any way.

"In 2001 I was ordered to move heavy boxes of equipment by the head. I protested. I said I wasn't happy doing this. I did it and ended up with terrible sciatica."

The teacher said she had again not made a claim, but said she took action when she came to believe the school was trying to force her out because of the time she had had to take off sick.

Safety standards

"It was purely to keep my job that I took action. I would have been got rid of otherwise.

"It now looks as if I'm going to leave teaching three-and-a-half years early.

"It's not easy to get compensation. Right to the last I had the chance I would lose everything, my reputation, everything. It has been three years of horrendous stress."

There isn't some great ferris wheel chucking fivers out
Tom Jones
Personal injury lawyer
But she says a major motivation was to improve health and safety standards at her school, and says they have not changed.

"People are still lifting heavy boxes at the school. It is always cost cutting."

For Tom Jones, a partner at the country's leading personal injury law firm Thompsons, the image of a compensation culture is false.

"It is a very clever campaign by the insurance companies to wind people up.

"It is about them seeking people to question the legitimacy of people claiming at all, and attacking the levels of compensation.

"If you are the insurance company doesn't it serve you for everybody to say 'no wonder we have higher premiums'?"

Reasonable care

Shadow home secretary David Davis cited the example of a teacher who won 55,000 after slipping on a chip, and the parents of a Girl Guide who sued after she was burnt by fat spitting from a sausage, as examples of the compensation culture.

But Mr Jones argued that with lawyers footing the bill for failed action, there was no reason for any to pursue frivolous claims.

"You only pursue a claim if you have any sense that you can prove the other side failed to take reasonable care, and, as a result of that, you were injured.

"There isn't some great ferris wheel chucking fivers out.

"Whether it is a chip you have slipped on, or asbestos gets in your lungs, they have failed to take reasonable care.

The number of people who claim is actually going down, but that isn't to say that the total cost isn't increasing
Association of British Insurers
"If there is a frivolous claim, fight it."

However the Association of British Insurers, while playing down suggestions of a burgeoning compensation culture, said there was a problem.

"The number of people who claim is actually going down, but that isn't to say that the total cost isn't increasing.

"With employers' liability insurance, the average cost of settling one of those claims has gone up threefold.

"Increasing compensation payments have to be paid for [with increased premiums]."

As for the Guides, who were cited by Mr Davis, the threat of compensation claims has not prompted changes.

A spokesman said the organisation was still keeping high safety standards, rather than indulging in overcautious attitudes.

"It hasn't affected us in any way because we have so many Guides and we have been going for years.

"Incidences are extremely low because we are a very professional organisation."

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The Human Rights Act is completely ingrained in English law"

Tories to review Human Rights Act
23 Aug 04  |  Politics
Is compensation culture on the rise?
23 Aug 04  |  Have Your Say

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