Duration of symptoms should not necessarily be the focus when assessing damages for minor personal injury (PI) claims, a High Court judge has said.
The latest (14th) edition of Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of Personal Injury Awards recommends increasing damages for PI victims in line with the retail price index – 4.8% over two years.
The new guidelines recommend increased damages for whiplash injuries as well as other kinds of award.
Mr Justice Langstaff, chair of the Judicial College guidelines committee, said in his introduction to the book that an emphasis purely on duration of symptoms “takes insufficient account of the other factors by which quantum of awards for minor injuries falls to be assessed, and may obscure the fact in many cases that recovery may not occur at an even pace over time, but may frequently be much more marked in the very early days of recuperation”.
Langstaff J went on: “Intelligent application of the guidelines, rather than too casual a focus on the length of time for which it is said the injury was suffered – perhaps in the light of a report saying that some minor symptoms are ongoing – is called for”.
City insurance law firm Clyde & Co commented on its website: “This could be good news for insurers in limiting payments in lower-value claims in instances where the claimant largely recovers in the initial prognosis period.
“It should be noted the guidelines are just that and therefore there is room for flexibility from both sides.”
Pete Blackmore, advocacy manager at law firm LPC, described the comment as “a warning to judges against taking an approach where the length of time for which any symptoms are suffered is treated as the critical factor”.
In a further change on minor injuries to the neck, shoulder and lower back, where a full recovery is made within three months, the bracket from a “few hundred pounds to £1,860” has been replaced by “up to £1,950”.
City insurance specialists DAC Beachcroft said: “It is worthy of note that the brackets for minor whiplash injuries, much of which may be rendered redundant if the government implements tariffs for whiplash injuries in accordance with its stated aims, indicate that a number of factors may justify awards in excess of or lower than the brackets, including the intensity of pain, impact of the injuries on work, social activities and day to day living, and the need for medication.”
Steven Snowden QC, a member of the guidelines committee, highlighted the removal of the separate, higher category of damages for female victims of facial scarring.
Mr Snowden, writing on the Crown Office Chambers website, described lower awards for men as “indefensible” and based on an “outdated stereotype”.
He went on: “The consequence has been a widening of the guideline bracket within which awards may fall, though it remains the case that the subjective reaction of the victim (whether male or female) to any scar and the extent, if any, to which scarring has affected them psychologically are of central importance. These will necessarily vary from individual to individual.”
Mr Snowden referred to Langstaff J’s reminder in his introduction that these were “guidelines not tramlines” and that many of the decisions on which the brackets for awards were set were made “many years ago” in the light of existing technology and medicine.
“The pace of technological and medical advance has, however, been quickening. On the one hand, the time during which a chronic or lifetime injury may have effect may be extended by increased life-spans; on the other, technological or medical advances may make injuries less painful, permit return of greater function, or allow for a quicker or more complete degree of recuperation than that which could have been predicted only a handful of years ago.
“There is room to argue that in an individual case such advances may call for an award which falls outside the range previously indicated by the courts.”