Being in the hospital is never easy. It puts everything to a stop and, depending on the seriousness of the issue faced, can make you think seriously about what is really important in life. For those that don’t suffer such a serious injury or illness, it can really slow you down in life.
Recovering your health has to take a priority over work related issues (and in some cases – are the cause of… ). All this has to happen while you face the struggle of limited income should you have to take time off work and take sick pay. The problems faced with hospital stays are endless and simply put, it’s not an easy task to face.
Recently, I was in the hospital for a fractured knee after falling (embarrassingly) from a kerb into the road and a number of people told me I’d be due compensation were unreal. It wasn’t true, I simply just misplaced my steps while checking my phone. I simply wasn’t looking where I was going. This, however, got me to thinking. Has the world gone claim mad? It seems so.
While in the hospital I was told that I’d cracked the Patella (cleanly, but I can assure you it didn’t feel clean) and torn my medial collateral ligament and quadriceps tendon. While I sound like I know what I’m talking about I can honestly tell you I don’t know what this meant and I was in agony, I’m not even sure if that was actually what I’d done but I remember it being along those lines.
I was told I’d not be able to use my knee correctly for up to 8-12 weeks and needed surgery to replace my kneecap. An absolute nightmare as you can imagine. To be told I needed a new kneecap was worrying, to say the least, and to make matters worse, following the surgery, I had to go back in as they had somehow managed to put the wrong size kneecap on my knee (the prosthesis was wrongly measured). However, on the bright side – I’m glad to say following that, my knee is as good as new.
Now, what I learnt in my time in hospital and following numerous people telling me was that medical negligence claims were common and there were numerous no win, no fee solicitors that I could use. Given that my surgery had been done incorrectly, I understood that people were only looking out for me. Alongside this, I did note a lot of marketing for solicitors during my time in the hospital, which was to be expected given the audience there. What got my attention was, after researching it that there was an upcoming legality issue that solicitors are facing regarding their fees. This interested me greatly.
One of the rising issues in the past 17 years is the rise in claims for medical negligence (Article is taken from 2008) or similar. Being defined as ‘lack of duty of care by a doctor, nurse, and other healthcare professionals’ it can range from delayed surgery to wrong diagnoses. There are 100’s of solicitor firms out there that specialise in these cases and it can be a daunting task to work out yourself if you have a case. Trust is always an issue in these situations as you don’t know who to turn to and I really wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing a case.
Solicitors claim the majority of expenses from the losing party if they win, that much we can all work out. And, if they lose you only pay what is agreed originally before going to trial (so a win-win situation for solicitors), they get a rate agreed if lose to pay themselves (business is business after all) and is significantly higher if they win. I agreed with a team of solicitors to go along these lines and the only cost I would occur is that of court costs should we lose (and would be 25% of my compensation should I win). The Telegraph reports that the end of the ‘no win, no fee’ culture is upon us with looming changes.
Change in Law
The part of the law that is about to change, however, is the amount a solicitor can claim toward their cost. It has been absurd in the past. In one case, in particular, a solicitor claimed £83,000 for a court case in which his client was awarded £1,000. With a total cost of £1.5 billion in 2015-2016, this law couldn’t come in any sooner and it’s expected to save the NHS £45 million a year. It gets technical, but in short – it means that solicitors are affected rather than the client. The knock-on effect from this I can predict, will be that in the short term, cases like mine where I’m expected to win are dealt with quickly, efficiently and as ‘priority’ to the solicitors. Once this bill has passed, I’d imagine the time it takes from start to finish is longer or someone less senior in firms will deal with the cases (as they can only claim a set amount for the case). It may be a starting trend that ‘no win, no fee’ cases are a starting practice for solicitors.
The statement by Andrew Foster, Chief Executive at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust sums it up perfectly ‘The introduction of a fixed recoverable cost for lower value claims would support more proportionate payment to claimant lawyers – which alongside improvements to the system should make things quicker and better for patients. This seems fair and appropriate recognising this all comes out of the NHS pot. Less money spent on legal costs will mean more to put into improved patient care at a local level.’
Brilliantly, it sounds like there will be more money for the NHS and less going to solicitors who overcharge the losing party for their already overpriced service.
Back to Basics
From speaking to someone in the industry, it seemed that the common practice prior the 1999 Access to Justice Act was to only take on cases they were sure to win and to hand pick cases that they knew they would be able to win and doubled their costs to make up for the cases they couldn’t. It might be that this is the case again going forward but in reality, it could be a good thing with lower ‘ambulance chasers’ in court reducing the amount of wasted time for the system, but on the flipside costs for solicitors could go up. The reduction in the fees for ‘no win, no fee’ that solicitors can charge is a positive move and I’m predicting that the 25% ‘win fee’ might even go up to compensate the loss in earnings from solicitors.