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Damages in personal injury cases 'too low'

DAMAGES awards for accident victims or those suffering work-related illnesses are too low, according to a study for the Government's law advisers.

Although at the time that they settled their personal injury claims most victims were satisfied with what appeared to be a substantial sum of money, they later found it inadequate to deal with the long-term effects of their disability, their inability to work and the cost of their care.

Many who had anticipated making a reasonable recovery and being able to continue work subsequently found they could not. More than half of those who received more serious injuries had not worked since their accident. But a quarter of those who suffered less catastrophic injury were also without work.

Four out of five were still experiencing pain several years after the accident, with 40 per cent remaining in constant pain.

'When somebody has had a traumatic experience it seems such a small amount offered in comparison with monies awarded for, say, libel cases,' said one.

The survey was carried out for the Law Commission as part of its three-year assessment of personal injury litigation and the effectiveness of damages as a remedy.

Some lawyers are suggesting there should be no-fault compensation schemes or that a court expert should assess awards.

The study carried out by Professor Hazel Genn, of University College, London, involved 761 people who received compensation of pounds 5,000 or more. Of these, 107 were the partners of people killed in accidents.

It found that only a small number of victims were managing to maintain a lifestyle similar to that before their accident. Most, even those who received substantial awards of pounds 100,000 or more, had had to use their savings and cut back on their day-to-day living expenses.

One of the main areas of concern for victims was the delay involved in settling claims - all of which were met by insurance companies - which caused the families financial difficulties, adding to their stress and often hindering recovery. A third of all larger claims took six years or more to settle.

Yesterday, coinciding with the release of the survey, a woman, Jane Clark, now 22, was awarded pounds 1.5m agreed damages in the High Court for a life ruined by a hospital error, 17 years earlier, when she was five.

Professor Genn yesterday said that the survey showed the need for changes to the adversarial system of assessing damages and compensation. 'At the moment, compensation is decided as a result of wrangling and disputes,' she said.

Mr Justice Brook, chairman of the commissioners, said: 'I think there is evidence shown by this survey, that in certain classes of cases, compensation is not high enough.'