Proposed changes to the Small Claims Limit and cyclists

Proposed changes to the Small Claims Limit and cyclists

Introduction

On the 16th of November 2016, the Government announced plans to increase the small claims limit for all damages claims arising from road accidents from the current £1,000 to £5,000, in an attempt to reduce the amount of whiplash claims. There have been mixed responses relating to this announcement. We at Cycle-SOS are keenly aware that cyclists who sustain, for example, a fractured collar bone, could fall into this bracket yet would be effectively deprived of legal representation, because they will no longer be able to recover any contribution to the preparation costs from the wrongdoer’s insurers. Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green in London, thinks so too and has put forward a motion to exempt vulnerable road users from the proposed changes. This article will look at the proposed changes, the motion to exempt vulnerable road users and whether this will deter cyclists.

The Changes to the Small Claims Limit Explained

The Ministry of Justice are proposing to change the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000. The proposals aim to tackle the high number of claims that are said to be made for whiplash injuries, many of which are often perceived to be made fraudulently. Currently, claimants with an injury claim value of over £1,000 can pursue their claim through a solicitor and claim part of their legal costs from the responsible party. The proposed changes would mean that a claimant who has injuries worth less than £5,000 would not be eligible to have any of their legal costs paid and would instead have to foot the bill themselves – effectively denying them professional assistance by removing claimant solicitors from the process altogether.
If the proposed changes are approved, then it may be presupposed that claimants will not need a solicitor if their claim falls below £5,000. However, there is a risk that this will prejudice claimants by leaving them without representation, whereas third party insurers will likely have legal teams at their disposal which they can use to defend claims without any extra cost to themselves. A letter of denial will discourage many claimants from taking further action, leaving them exposed to significant hardship if, for example, their injuries stop them working while they recover.

Who are Vulnerable Road Users?

Many people use our roads every day, some of which are more vulnerable than others. Car occupants were involved in 109,046 casualties in 2016, but of the fatalities suffered in the same year, more vulnerable road users were affected more than car occupants.
Vulnerable road users consist of:
• Pedestrians;
• Pedal Cyclists;
• Motorcyclists; and
• Horse riders.

Exemption of Vulnerable Road Users

The aim of the proposed changes to the small claims limit is to bring the number of whiplash claims down and to prevent the number of supposed fraudulent whiplash claims. This is predominantly aimed at car occupants, but the changes could be extremely harmful to vulnerable road users with genuine claims whose injuries fall below the £5,000 limit.
Catherine West MP, has since argued that vulnerable road users should be removed from the measures set out in the proposed reforms to personal injury. Cyclists and other vulnerable road users ought to be ‘protected on our roads, not punished by the Government if they are unfortunate enough to have a non-fault accident.’ In doing this, she calls for the support of other MPs to back this motion.

Members of the House of Lords and the Law Society have also criticised the proposed changes for denying very large numbers of genuine claimants from access to legal advice and representation. Law Society president Joe Egan stated that “without representation claimants will end up either not bringing claims or have no choice but to go it alone.” He adds that this is “wholly unrealistic and will prejudice thousands of people who have suffered injury through no fault of their own.”
Unlike motorists, cyclists and other vulnerable road users are often not insured and therefore will not have anyone to represent them if their injuries fall below £5,000. Even if they have some form of legal expense insurance, there is no guarantee that the policy will actually arrange representation if liability is denied. As such, they ought to be exempt from the proposed change in the small claims limit.

Do the changes deter cyclists?

In an effort to reduce the number of cars on our roads, the Government purports to be encouraging cycling. However, there is a real danger that these changes will instead deter people from cycling. Under the changes, cyclists will not have an adequate right to redress if they are involved in an accident that is not their fault, which may lead to people refusing to cycle altogether.
Cyclists may be at a further disadvantage, as insurers will often have access to an in-house legal department, who will have the legal and technical knowledge to be able to reject and defend a claim. This will inevitably lead to many claims being under-settled: an insurer has a massive conflict of interest between its commercial agenda and the issues confronting a victim. Is an insurer going to inform a claimant that compensation should be enhanced because the injury might cause arthritis 10 years down the line? Claimants will receive settlements which are far from representative of the injuries they have sustained. If they were exempt from the changes however, it would mean that they would have access to justice in the form of a legal representative who knows the law and has the experience to maximise the compensation they are entitled to.

How can I help?

If you feel strongly about how the proposed changes might affect you as a cyclist, then you can contact your local MP and ask them to support the motion to exempt vulnerable road users from the changes.
There are many ways you can get in touch with your MP. The most common methods are by post, email or telephone. However, in this technological age, many MPs also have social media accounts through which you are able to contact them.
It is also possible to speak to your MP in person, during a constituency surgery. These are regular meetings held with constituents to discuss any issues or concerns that constituents may have. Before attending a surgery, it is best to contact your MP’s office to find out whether you need an appointment.
For further information on who your MP is or how to contact them, you can visit the Parliament website here: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/.

Conclusion

The Government proposal to increase the small claims limit to £5,000 has received varied responses. Unsurprisingly the insurance industry is wholly in favour; those like Cycle-SOS who spend their days fighting for the rights of injured cyclists are appalled. The only voice in Parliament this far is MP Catherine West, who calls for a common-sense approach when enacting legislation. The exemption she seeks for will help cyclists and other vulnerable road users get the help they so desperately need following an accident. If you feel strongly about this issue, then you can get involved by talking to you local MP and asking them to support the motion proposed by Catherine West. In this way, you could be helping cyclists get access to justice if they are involved in an accident that is not their fault.

Sources

[1] Law Gazette, ‘MOJ will press on with £5k small claims limit’ (Published 17th November 2016) <https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/moj-set-to-impose-5k-small-claims-limit/5058818.article>

[2] Department for Transport, Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2016 Annual Report (Table RAS30001, Published 28th September 2017) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/668504/reported-road-casualties-great-britain-2016-complete-report.pdf>

[3] Ministry of Justice, Justice Secretary unveils new bill to cut car insurance premiums (Published 20th March 2018) <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/justice-secretary-unveils-new-bill-to-cut-car-insurance-premiums>

[4] Bikebiz, ‘Don’t throw cyclists under the bus, says campaign’ (Published 4th April 2018) <https://www.bikebiz.com/news/dont-throw-cyclists-under-the-bus-says-campaign

[5] Bikebiz, ‘Don’t throw cyclists under the bus, says campaign’ (Published 4th April 2018) <https://www.bikebiz.com/news/dont-throw-cyclists-under-the-bus-says-campaign

[6] The Law Society, ‘Lords’ collision with new whiplash Bill shows legislation has a long way to go’ (Published 26th April 2018) <http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/lords-collision-with-new-whiplash-bill/>

[7] The Law Society, ‘Lords’ collision with new whiplash Bill shows legislation has a long way to go’ (Published 26th April 2018) <http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/lords-collision-with-new-whiplash-bill/>