Thursday, 6 February 2014

What “compensation culture”…?

I have been at the receiving end of three rather nasty road traffic accidents (RTAs) – to which my body pays eternal witness. However, as each case was settled, I had to accept roughly 50% of the previous amount of compensation: as I was “already injured”.

There are, as I see it, two immediate and obvious problems with this:
  1. If you are already disabled, as a result of being hit by a car, your ‘new’ disability means that the second driver to hit you is, somehow, 50% less culpable than the first. Or, of course, you are worth 50% less than someone in full health. This is the implication, anyway; and it feels extremely discriminatory – although it is always couched in medical terms: i.e. you’re already damaged, so can’t be damaged as much as someone who isn’t (or it can’t be proven which accident is responsible for that damage). This is obviously a load of complete cullions.
  2. If your injuries continue to worsen (as have mine – and as do many people’s… – and, in my case, for perpetuity…), once you have accepted the compensation, you have no right for further aid from the same source: as part of the condition of accepting the money – almost as some sort of twisted bribery, or maybe blackmail…? – is that you simultaneously sign away your rights to any such supplementary claims: even if, as in my case, it is extremely obvious that my current, continually deteriorating, condition stems from those accidents. That is, any debate on the matter – as well as any concern for your wellbeing; or, conversely, for the amount of damage done to you (and, therefore, damages paid to you) – is shut down completely, the moment you sign your acceptance (and your life away).
I don’t know what happens if you never accept the payment eventually agreed (out of what would almost certainly be seen as misguided morals…) – there is always an insult of a first, low offer, followed by uncomfortable, pride-demeaning haggling… – as I was never in a comfortable enough financial position to refuse even the pittance I accepted the third time. Also, in all of my cases, my own legal team stressed – although I am not so sure why – that I only really had the one chance to receive the money, anyway….

In other countries, life – after injury – appears more fair. For instance, in the States, I would have probably received (at least) ten to twenty times what I obtained here in the UK, in compensation – or as damages for – my first accident: with costs awarded aiming to cover my ongoing loss of earnings, and my medical costs; as well as acting as true compensation. There are also countries for which there is not one single, limited payment.

In Germany, for example, after the initial three-year statutory limitation period has expired, if subsequent injuries emerge that were not originally apparent – but that can be proved to result from the accident – this time limit (which can also be suspended for other legal reasons) can be extended to thirty years. It can also be so extended by agreement between the liable party – or their insurer – and the ‘victim’, if it becomes clear that the injuries sustained are liable to worsen, or lead to a long-term incapacity.

In Sweden – where I worked for a short time; and where the law appears to be much more humane – ‘periods of disability’ are split, firstly, into a short-term, temporary ‘period of medical emergency’ – i.e. from the time of the accident until the point when the medical situation of the victim has stabilized – after which a new medical assessment has to be carried out. Residual incapacities are then allocated a degree of disability (from 1 to 99% – 100% being death). If this is more than 10%, and it is of essential importance as a means of support to the claimant, the ensuing ‘period of disability’ is compensated, usually, with an annuity.

When I therefore read of the “compensation culture” that supposedly drives up our motor insurance premiums; or of the supposedly false claims for “whiplash” – a most derogatory term, when you consider the lifelong injuries that can result from a high-speed impact – my resulting anger, I feel, is therefore justified.

I accept – as with benefits fraud – that there are a tiny minority who do play the system; but this should not mean – as both the current Government and certain factions of the press would have you believe – that we should be all tarred with the same brush. Certainly, when it comes to compensation in this country – either through insurance or through benefits – those who suffer from their incapacities, and from not having sufficient income to help them cope – never mind survive – with their pain and suffering, far, far outweigh those who have played the system and won anything from it.

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