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The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg reports
"The judges said that victims with the most catastrophic injuries were the ones who should get the highest increases"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 11:47 GMT
Personal injury victims 'short-changed'
lord woolf
Lord Woolf gave the rulings
A landmark court judgment has backed calls for higher levels of damages for accident victims.

The increase was not large enough to placate the eight accident victims who brough the test case, arguing their compensation awards were too low.

But insurers, who had warned premiums for commercial and motoring cover could rise by up to 30% if the appeal was successful, were relieved.

Five Appeal Court judges ruled there should be a tapered increase in personal injury damages, up to a maximum rise of one-third for those at the highest level.



What world are these judges living in to make these kinds of awards?

Tom Jones from solicitors Thompsons
But the judges, headed by Master of the Rolls Lord Woolf, decided there should be no increase in awards where pay-outs were below 10,000.

The eight cases included Luke Warren, now eight, who suffered brain damage at birth; a woman who suffered catastrophic injuries in a road accident in 1985; and a pregnant woman who was brain-damaged after waiting 34 minutes for an ambulance to arrive following an asthma attack.

The victims said damages payouts had not kept pace with standards of living over the past 40 years.

They wanted compensation for "pain, suffering and loss of amenity" in all personal injury cases to be doubled, in line with a recent Law Commission report.

'Shortsighted judges'

Tom Jones, spokesman for Thompsons solicitors, who represented one of the eight test cases reviewed by the judges, said: "It beggars belief. What world are these judges living in to make these kinds of awards?

"Accident victims throughout England and Wales have been short-changed by a shortsighted Court of Appeal."

Lawyers acting for victims in two of the cases which received the largest increases said they were also disappointed.

John Pickering, head of personal injury claims at solicitors Irwin Mitchell, said: "It has been argued by ourselves and suggested by the Law Commission that general damages in this country are in need of a large increase and it is disappointing that the Court of Appeal has fallen short of the commission's recommendations.

"However, the decision overall is a step in the right direction and we must work towards further increases."


luke warren
Luke Warren: Brain damaged at birth
Christopher Purchas QC, for one of the victims, had said: "The amount of compensation that a claimant is entitled to receive does not depend on the financial standing of the defendant.

"It does not make any difference whether the defendant is a pauper or a millionaire, whether it makes him bankrupt or puts him into liquidation. These consequences are irrelevant."

Premiums may rise 10%

A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, said: "We don't yet know what the impact of this judgment will be on insurance premiums.

"However it will certainly be much less than was originally envisaged, had the Law Commission report's recommendations on personal injury damages been implemented in full.

"It was recommending increases in damages of between 50% and 100% in some cases."

He said the increase in insurance premiums was likely to be less than 10%.

Steve Walker, chief executive of the NHS Litigation Authority, said: "We are relieved that the Court of Appeal has taken a fairly pragmatic line. It is a very cogent and well-argued judgment."

He told BBC News Online: ""There is only one pot of money for the NHS and this had the potential to damage customer care.

"There is no gloating or victory parade. It's still a big hit for the NHS."

Mr Walker said: "We have never tried to deny people what they are entitled to but we have a responsibility to the public purse."

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