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Research finds spiraling UK ‘compensation culture’ – But spiraling down not up …

Research published this week by the University of Warwick’s School of Law, for the Health and Safety Executive, has undermined the popular view that UK citizens are engaging in a spiraling ‘compensation culture’ with ever increasing claims against allegedly negligent companies and organisations. Instead, the evidence suggests that the number of such court claims has continued to fall.

The Warwick researchers’ remit was to survey the extent to which the Management of Health and Safety at Work and Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which removed the civil liability exclusions contained in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, had influenced the volume of claims taken to court in respect of workplace incidents and accidents. In particular, the researchers were given the task to review whether there had been an increase in claims for damages arising from occupational injury or ill health for breaches of the 1999 Regulations, and, if so, the full extent of that increase.

Rather than evidence of increasing numbers of claims, however, the researchers found that the number of legal actions in this area was consistently falling in both the High Court and the County Courts.

Between 1999 and 2003, the number of "personal injury actions" in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court was:

1999 1,187
2000 1,024
2001 1,019
2002 827
2003 570
The figures for "other negligence claims (including professional negligence)" during the same period revealed the following:
1999 373
2000 225
2001 292
2002 268
2003 128
The number of "small claims" recorded during the relevant period under the heading of "Negligence – personal injury" and "Other negligence" in the County Courts was as follows: Number of "Negligence – Personal injury" Small Claims Heard (1999-2003)
1999 3,560
2000 1,790
2001 2,280
2002 3,150
2003 2,210
Number of "Other negligence" Small Claims Heard (1999-2003)
1999 16,750
2000 8,010
2001 10,300
2002 7,800
2003 7,290
The researchers also looked at the data on the number of civil liability claims specifically arising from the introduction of the new regulations in 2003 and found no evidence of increase. The Warwick researchers concluded that this was because workers already had available to them the right to bring actions in negligence as well as the right to bring actions for breach of statutory duty under other legislation, where there was no exclusion of civil liability. These conclusions were also supported by the observations of a wide range of legal practitioners, insurers, employers’ associations and trade unions, who participated in the Warwick research. In particular, there was no evidence of any significant numbers of claims "in the pipeline" since the coming into force of the 2003 Regulations.

It is expected that, once sufficient time has elapsed to measure the impact of the new regulations on completed litigation in this area, the government will be seeking a more detailed examination of the judicial statistics and emerging litigation practice in order to build upon the policy implications of the published Warwick findings.

Peter Dunn | alfa
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