Government Ponders Increase In Proposed Cap On Victims Costs

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The End of English Justice for Victims Of Hospital Blunders as Government Ponders Increase in Proposed Cap on Victims Costs

Thousands of patients could soon be unable to find legal representation if plans to cap legal fees in clinical negligence compensation cases worth up to £250,000 are introduced.

A Department of Health document attached to the Civil Procedure Rules Committee Meeting Papers has revealed that ministers are considering imposing a limit on fixed recoverable costs on cases worth £250,000 in damages – up substantially from a previous proposal of £100,000.

A Medical Negligence Lawyer at Simpson Millar, says the government's proposals will deprive hundreds of thousands of victims of hospital blunders access to justice.

"Reports of cases featuring high legal costs fail repeatedly to highlight why the victim's legal costs appear to have spiralled. The truth lies in how hospital trusts time and time again insist on fighting legitimate cases for several years – racking up legal costs instead of agreeing a swift and fair settlement at an earlier stage. Upon losing year-long battles, hospital trusts are ordered to pay costs on top of the victim's compensation, but the vast majority of the bill could easily have saved. The Department of Health document estimates that in the region of £105million could be saved by introducing the £250,000 limit but I'd argue that twice that could be saved by encouraging early settlement of cases. Solicitors on both sides would be paid less but the victims would still get what they are entitled to."

In its pursuit to reduce spending on clinical negligence claims, the government is seeking to introduce fixed fees as early as October 2016.

"The government has lost sight of the fact that a victim's legal costs are only paid for by the public purse when they win their case. So rather than pointing fingers at the claimant lawyers racking up legal fees, the focus should be on how trusts and their defence teams repeatedly choose to fight cases where doctors have quite clearly been negligent. By admitting when mistakes have been made and settling cases early, millions of pounds could be saved. Instead, the government will force victims to abandon legitimate claims because specialist lawyers will be unable to cover their costs in fighting their corner. Justice cannot be fixed with a price but, it seems, injustice can."

Claimant solicitors often act on a Conditional Fee Agreement [CFA] which means they will only be paid if a case is won. Defendant solicitors are paid regardless of the result – incentive enough to fight every case, for as long as it takes regardless of the cost.

"We are now well on the way to a two-tier system of justice; one for the rich and one for the poor. The government has already withdrawn legal aid from the majority of clinical negligence cases, including those where children have suffered from medical blunders."

"The argument for a cap on costs is based on an inherently flawed and illogical premise. Of course savings will be made because thousands of people with legitimate claims for serious medical blunders will be unable to make them."

According to the DoH Claimant legal costs for cases closed in 2013/14 amounted to 273% of damages awarded in claims between £1,000 and £10,000, 153% for claims between £10,000 and £25,000, 107% for claims between £25,000 and £50,000, 74% for claims between £50,000 and £100,000 and 54% for claims between £100,000 and £250,000.


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