CIVIL court delays compound the sense of unfairness felt by accident victims and add to their financial and emotional hardship, according to a new report.
A Law Commission study reveals that damages awarded in personal injury cases are often too low to compensate for their long-term financial and physical suffering.
It also confirms that there are substantial delays in the settlement of personal injury claims. The bigger the damages, the longer plaintiffs are forced to wait for their compensation.
The report, entitled 'Personal injury compensation: how much is enough?', is based on an extensive survey of accident victims.
The report concludes: "The strain of litigation and uncertainty about the future may delay recovery."
Delay in receiving damages also affects the way pay-outs are spent, with victims seeking to make up for material comforts they have been missing.
"During the litigation process victims and their families face a prolonged period of financial difficulty during which savings are depleted, debts accumulate and legal costs increase."
Commission chair Mr Justice Brooke says the report demonstrates that in certain classes of case compensation is not high enough.
Statistics reveal that victims do not squander their awards, but usually invest the money. However, independent financial advice is exposed as patchy, with half of those receiving settlements of between u20,000 and u50,000 given no guidance on the management of their damages.
Michael Napier, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil), welcomes the commission's report.
"The findings confirms Apil's view that the assessment of damages is too low," he says.