It’s hard to pick up a newspaper without reading a story about the rising cost of claims. But it’s not the claims that cost, it’s the injuries. There is a lot of talk about preventing claims, yet none about preventing injury.
So what does an injury cost? Well firstly, there is a cost to the NHS in treating the injury. This can vary enormously depending on whether the injury warrants a lengthy hospital stay or a trip to the local GP. Then, there is the time spent away from the workplace, which is a cost to the employer who will be paying for sick leave whilst suffering a drop in profitability. There is then the cost of, and time spent looking at, accident prevention so that it doesn’t happen again. The injured person will be in pain and will be unable to enjoy normal activity or planned events – holidays may need to be cancelled, sporting events cancelled, even weddings may need to be postponed. Injuries regularly occur at the most inopportune times, and rearrangements cost money. An injured person may lose income if unable to work, or may incur additional costs – for example needing a taxi to get to work if he is unable to drive, or needing adapted equipment at work. Many people benefit from rehabilitation, which comes at a cost. Rehabilitation can be so important in giving people the best possible opportunity to get back to full health, or make the best recovery possible.
Obviously, an individual has a legal right to make a claim for compensation if he is injured. There is nothing wrong with this – this is the compensation he needs, as the above examples clearly demonstrate. He can claim general damages for the injury suffered, any financial losses he has incurred, and he can claim for any future care needs if he has them. Damages for future care feature in many cases where there will not be a complete recovery, and the claimant will be left with an ongoing disability. Future care needs are calculated at actual cost. Damages are not a windfall, but are carefully calculated to ensure you are not given a penny more than you need. Sometimes, if people are young when they are injured and therefore have a long life expectancy, the sums can sound quite large and resemble lottery wins to the uninformed. But, if a disabled teenager receives an award of £1m for future care, with a life expectancy of 60 years, this equates to only £45 a day, which really does not go far enough in covering the costs I’ve already outlined. The reality is that living with an ongoing disability costs a serious amount of money. A person, who is fortunate enough to live longer than expected could, as a consequence, run out of damages before the end of his life, and the costs of caring for him will fall on the state.
It is not the claims that are costing the country a fortune; it is the very act of negligently injuring someone in the first place. If we spend more on prevention there would be fewer injuries, and fewer claims. The decline in standards is palpable. Only a week or so ago, the media carried stories from leading doctors concerned about decreasing levels of staffing in accident and emergency departments. Quite bluntly, they expressed their concern that people would not get the proper treatment, and that there was an unacceptably increased risk to patient safety. Claims against the NHS will spiral upwards if nothing is done.
Prevention is so much cheaper than cure.