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Well, Whose Fault Is It?

Throughout the 20th century, the law has steadily moved in favour of the injured when it comes to claiming compensation for injuries received due to an accident at work. The 'duty of care' model puts a higher liability on business, regardless of what contracts say. Today, the victim does not have to show that the accused was negligent; instead, the accused must demonstrate non-negligence. Therefore, they are guilty until proved innocent in the current structure.

The introduction of no-win, no-fee contracts for lawyers, an increase in the amount of individual awards, and tougher liability and employment laws are helping to fuel the boom. Commentators say the sharp rise in tribunal hearings is evidence of a growing compensation culture in the UK. A recent study found more than one in seven people in the UK who suffer an injury requiring medical treatment take legal advice on whether to pursue a personal injury claim. When questioned recently 78% of Britons said taking an employer to court to claim compensation when they have had an accident at work was socially and morally acceptable. This attitude creates suspicion and mistrust within the workplace and other institutions.

It is not just the successful claims that are damaging business, but claims that have little chance of success also cost companies a fortune in legal fees. Non-financial costs of compensation culture to business include an increase in time adopting defensive procedures and assessing risks. Their fear of being sued becomes a disincentive to admitting liability or pointing out unsafe practices.

Health is one of the main areas affected by compensation culture. Doctors no longer give the sort of advice you would like because it might backfire on them. Instead they give patients a list of options. British travel agents initiated a fighting fund to deal with cases filed by holidaymakers, such as having to defend a personal injury claim when a coconut dropped on to a touristís chest whilst reclining under a palm tree in the Dominican Republic.

Some people believe that an individual's right to compensation forces big business and public authorities to behave moreresponsibly. In fact, because of the costs, both financial and in terms of restricting activities, they are forced reassess their working methods. Britainís greatness was built on risk-taking during the Industrial Revolution. Today, because of the compensation culture, there is a reduction in personal responsibility and a collective aversion to risk.

Tougher liability and employment laws and the introduction of no-win, no-fee contracts for lawyers have caused an increase in the number of people attempting to claim compensation from their employers.

The media do not help stop this culture spiralling. They delight in telling stories where people sue the Church for acts of God or people not realising that hot drinks do scold you when poured down your leg. But they donít report that in the United Kingdom such cases almost always fail.

There will always be scroungers and conmen who try to play the system, and of course private companies and public services have to respond to the frivolous suits they bring. These all costs money so companies close down and services suffer. The sad consequence of all this is more people will simply quit activities for which they might be sued for negligence.

Doctors will deny services, playgrounds will close, educational trips will be cancelled and companies will go out of business. Some of us will see this coming, and support attempts to strike a balance where individuals have a means of redress and risk-takers have a safety net, in effect tilting the legal scales towards the level. Others will continue trying their get-rich-quick techniques at the expense of everybody else.

Suggestions have been offered time and time again on how to reduce the number of claims made, but it is far easier blame the public and tell them it is their own fault for claiming Ė not the fault of poor legislation. This is where the public has been misled. Certainly, the number of claims being made has more than doubled in the past four or five years, but it is the rising cost of each individual claim that is causing the majority of the problem. The amounts awarded in compensation have not changed much over the past years but the amounts solicitors can charge for their services has.

A proposal is to remove legal aid as an option in clinical negligence claims. This would result in reliance on the "no win, no fee" option. Under this system, the claimantís lawyers will be responsible for the bills of both sides if he loses. They will then only take a case to court unless they are confident they will succeed.

About the Author: Diane Newsom is an author for the UK search portal Usewho. Please visit us for more information on claim compensation.

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