Claims against public authorities – a growing problem?

With a renewed focus on compensation culture, and Lord Young expected to announce proposals to tackle claims against public authorities, it is worth taking a look at the numbers and types of claims brought in England and Wales over the last ten years to see if there is evidence that claims against public authorities is a growing problem. I have already argued that both the number and size of claims against schools is much smaller than the press spin suggests. Is there a broader problem with public sector claims?

I have collated data on claims registered with the CRU from the CRU website (2005/06-2009/10 claims registered) and Lewis, Morris and Oliphant‘s (2000/01 to 2004/05 claims notified) work on tort claims.

Clin Neg Employer Motor Other Public Total
2000/01 10,991 219,183 401,757 8,207 95,883 736,021
2001/02 9,779 170,554 400,445 6,548 100,989 688,315
2002/03 7,977 183,342 398,892 6,704 109,782 706,697
2003/04 7,121 291,210 374,761 5,698 91,453 770,243
2004/05 7,205 253,502 402,924 5,007 87,247 755,885
2005/06 9,321 118,692 460,097 4,697 81,615 674,422
2006/07 8,575 98,478 518,821 5,069 79,841 710,785
2007/08 8,876 87,198 551,905 5,299 79,472 732,750
2008/09 9,880 86,957 625,072 4,275 86,164 812,348
2009/10 10,308 78,744 674,997 6,251 91,025 861,325
Overall Percentage Change -6% -64% 68% -24% -5% 17%

In all areas other than Motor claims there has been a drop from the picture in 2000 (around the time also when legal aid was removed from most personal injury claims). Claims against employers appear to have dropped steadily (with the bump between 2002 and 2005 being accounted for by a large ‘one-off’ set of bronchitis and vibration whitefinger claims).  Claims against public authorities have generally declined save in the last two years where there have been increases of 8% in 2008/09 and 6% in 2009/10. Those increases should be investigated but not, I would suggest, from the view point that assumes we have a flood of such claims. In historical terms, we do not. Indeed in schools, at least, we have a trickle.

Putting the RTA figures to one side (where there is a steadily and sizeable upwards increase with some evidence that this is driven predominantly by small claims), such figures do not suggest that the compensation system is burgeoning.  I believe there are significant problems that need tackling but these numbers put some of the wilder claims about compensation culture into perspective.

It has been habitually alleged since 2000 that no win no fee lawyers have driven a claims explosion and this has driven a perception that there is a claiming culture. This was demonstrably not the case for the first five years that those allegations were being made and since then the only area where this might plausibly be the case is motor claims. Whether the rise in claims in RTA cases is problematic turns on an assessment of the merits of those claims in legal and public policy terms. It is time for a proper study of the merits of personal injury claims and a meaningful study of public attitudes to claims which is more objective than the wilder nonsense about a compensation culture.

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