Recently proposed legislation in the United Kingdom has deliberated raising a limit of small claims compensation from £1,000 to £5,000 regarding personal injury claims for road users. What does this even mean?
While bigger numbers regarding compensation is usually viewed as a universally good thing for injury victims who have suffered from accidents, this proposed policy reform might put many cyclists in a bind with regard to receiving compensation for damages, both physical and emotional. Expanding upon the limits that can be received within small claims court means that more victims to road injuries – also known as vulnerable road users, or VRUs – would have to settle in small claims court instead of being able to take their case to personal injury attorneys who could potentially represent them on the legal level.
According to an article published on road.cc, representatives of British Cycling stated that the proposed legislation could affect as much as “70 per cent of cyclists injured in road traffic collisions” who might seek legal representation after suffering damages and/or injuries.
The way that small claims courts generally operate is there is an upper limit to how much a plaintiff can receive should a judge find them in favor at the end of their case. This monetary award is generally used toward whatever means for which the plaintiff sought it in the first place, be it compensation for back rent, restoration of property damage or otherwise. Once the sought amount exceeds this upper limit, the case is more often brought to civil court. Civil court, unlike small claims court, generally has no ceiling for damages sought and also allows plaintiffs to be represented by attorneys during the legal process. Small claims courts almost never involve lawyers, and many consider the legal fees after compensation to be less than cost-efficient.
So, what does this mean in the end? A higher ceiling for small claims court cases means that many more people are out of luck when it comes to receiving legal aid for their suffering, and any reward that they might receive from their case will essentially count toward out-of-pocket expenses toward medical bills or else wise. The advantages of being able to hire attorneys as representatives likely yields more reward for the plaintiff as well as insurance companies covering any necessary costs, such as medical or legal fees.
So, while bigger numbers are generally more appealing in terms of monetary rewards for plaintiffs, expanding upon the role of small claims courts to encompass victims of personal injury really only works against the plaintiffs seeking compensation, as it all but eliminates the role of attorneys in may cases that would otherwise be heard in civil court, and it forces plaintiffs to take responsibility for their own representation. Not only that, but while they may receive a favorable ruling for a monetary reward to cover their needs, as is often the case with their representation, plaintiffs are often responsible for seeking the damages from defendants on their own in a role called “judgment creditor.”
It is understandable why the representative bodies of British cyclists are less than pleased with this proposed legislation. Under laws such as is this, more cyclists would be left to their own devices in order to receive compensation for soft tissue injuries or damages to personal property where previously, they would be able to seek out legal representation and more substantial than those who aren’t so readily considered “vulnerable road users” like motorists who are, theoretically, less exposed in the confines of their own vehicles.