Personal injury damages set to increase

Test case hearings in the Court of Appeal could result in a 100 per cent rise in personal injury awards. Roger Pearson reports.

Personal injury damages awards are expected to soar following a group of test case hearings scheduled for the Court of Appeal later this month.

Seven hearings are set for 28 February and come in the wake of a Law Commission probe into the level of general damages awarded in personal injury actions.

The hearing will take place at a rare, five-judge court headed by Master of the Rolls Lord Woolf, who will be sitting with Lords Justices Beldam, Otton and May and Mr Justice Nelson.

The commission has recommended that in some cases the traditionally low level of general damages awarded should go up by between 50 to 100 per cent.

That would be in cases where an award of £3,000 or more would currently be likely. In cases where general damages would be likely to be under £3,000, the commission has suggested an increase of up to 50 per cent.

But rather than seeking change by legislation, the commission has turned to the Court of Appeal to set new guidelines. And the test cases expected to be the vehicle for this are those due this month.

If the Court of Appeal does pave the way for introduction of higher general damages awards there is bound to be a massive increase in the bill facing the National Health Service. With medical negligence claims running at an all-time high, any increase in general damages will force the amount being paid out even higher.

And with an estimated 15,000 claims against the NHS in the pipeline that will make massive inroads into NHS resources.

Clare Jaycock, a partner and personal injury specialist at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, says: "If the Law Commission recommendations are introduced it will mean a substantial rise in the amount the NHS can expect to pay out on clinical negligence claims."

However, she warns against a headlong rush towards higher awards. "This is obviously a very sensitive issue and it is natural to want the highest levels of damages to be awarded to someone who has suffered through another's negligence," she says.

"But perhaps it would be better if these changes were not rushed through to allow an opportunity for a wider, more informed public debate."