National Accident Helpline worked with leading research consultancy Populus to conduct a comprehensive piece of research to help determine the real cost of personal injury in Scotland. This report reveals the sometimes devastating effects a personal injury can have on an individual and their immediate family, as well as the sacrifices that are often necessary, particularly in the event that injury or illness prevents an individual from working.
Independent research carried out on behalf of National Accident Helpline has identified some worrying trends over Scottish perceptions of access to justice following a personal injury. The research was carried out by leading research consultancy Populus[i] as part of a wider survey of the United Kingdom, with a specific focus on personal injury victims[ii] in Scotland. The survey is split into two parts. The survey sample represented in chapter one of this report is the Scottish general public. The survey sample reflected in chapters two and three are Scottish residents who have been injured in a non-fault accident.
Having life and work disrupted by an injury is at the very least a significant inconvenience. For many it is a daunting and frightening experience. Personal injury is a serious concern on a financial and emotional level for victims themselves and also impacts their families and colleagues, placing considerable strain on all involved.
Young people in Scotland who have suffered a personal injury are particularly ill-served; in many cases they are left thousands of pounds out of pocket and at risk of unemployment, placing further strain on them as they recover.
“National Accident Helpline (NAH) speaks to personal injury victims in Scotland on a daily basis and these conversations give us a real insight into both the day-to-day and lifelong impact that an injury can have on someone’s life.
“This independent research report explores the Scottish public’s perceptions of personal injury and delves deeper into the real financial and emotional impact of what can be a life-changing event for working adults. Many of our customers share their concerns with us about the amount of time they have to take off work as a result of their incident. We wanted to better understand the true cost of personal injury for the working population across the UK.
“Significant changes to the legal landscape are on the way in Scotland. In some instances, this will result in the limiting of access to justice for those who need it most. For over 20 years NAH has been helping people who have suffered a personal injury in Scotland to get their lives back on track. It’s more critical now than ever to use our knowledge of personal injury claims to support genuine injury victims and give a voice to those struggling to secure the justice they deserve.”
Russell Atkinson, Chief Executive Officer, National Accident Helpline
A survey of the general public in Scotland
1. Scottish injury victims maintaining stiff upper lip
The survey uncovered a mismatch between attitudes towards compensation and claiming behaviour among the Scottish population. A substantial 72% of respondents in the survey of the general public in Scotland believe they would deserve compensation in the event that they suffered an injury which wasn’t their fault, and 64% indicated that they would go ahead and make a claim for compensation if they suffered such an injury.
Yet when it came to surveying personal injury victims (covered in Chapter 2), only 48% of respondents actually pursued a legal claim after suffering an injury, despite the significant impact it may have had on them. The very real and silent suffering of the 52% of accident victims in Scotland who have not made a claim for any form of compensation for their non-fault injury should represent a real public concern, particularly when so many of these people are facing negative changes to their lifestyle.
Scots clearly recognise the potential serious impact of an injury on their personal circumstances. 72% of people in the survey said that they would be worried about paying household bills if they were injured and forced to take time off work, and 66% of people also admitted that they’d be concerned about losing their job.
However, there is confusion over the potential costs of seeking compensation. 45% of the people surveyed in the general public sample in Scotland revealed that fears over legal expenses would stop them from making a personal injury claim. The lack of clarity regarding access to justice on a ‘no win no fee’ basis has left a considerable section of the Scottish population unaware that they are able to pursue a claim without any financial risk to themselves. The financial aspect of making a claim, and the perceived expense, is a huge factor in determining whether or not injured victims seek recompense.
Many accident victims in Scotland therefore suffer in silence after a personal injury, incurring out of pocket expenses and funding necessary lifestyle changes using their savings, personal loans and through other means.
The wider impact of injury
Alongside these financial concerns, injuries can also trigger other emotions, fears and practical concerns. 89% of the Scottish public indicated they’d be worried about how long recovering from their injury would take, while 81% would also like to receive an apology or an acknowledgement of fault from the responsible party.
And the impact of injury is not felt only by the victim. Among the survey of the general Scottish population, 70% of people indicated that their spouse or partner would be negatively impacted by their injury, while 53% also said their friends would also suffer in the event that they were injured.
Almost half of the injury victims aged 18-34 who were surveyed reported that their parents were significantly negatively impacted by their injury, demonstrating the ripple effect of personal injury on family members.
Legal changes affecting personal injury cases in Scotland
Significant changes led by Lord Gill, the Lord President, mean that new rules will now apply to personal injury cases conducted in Scotland. As a result of the Civil Courts Review, part of the Scottish Government’s Making Justice Work programme, the threshold for cases to be heard in the Court of Session will be raised from £5,000 to £150,000. This means that the vast majority of personal injury cases will no longer be entitled to be heard in the Court of Session and will instead be heard in lower courts - either the Sheriff Court or a proposed new dedicated Personal Injury Court.
While the stated intention of the reforms is to allow personal injury cases to be heard quickly and at a lower cost to the parties involved, there is concern that the majority of cases will no longer be aired in the Court of Session, and fears that personal injury victims will not receive adequate representation. Claimants in lower courts are not automatically entitled to the services of an advocate, but the majority of insurance companies defending claims would have the financial clout to hire appropriate counsel.
A survey of injury victims in Scotland
2. Financial concerns place a huge strain on Scotland’s injury victims
It’s clear that suffering a personal injury is a distressing time in anyone’s life. Injuries can lead to time away from work and lost income and additional out of pocket expenses through paying for transportation, childcare and, in more severe cases, mobility equipment and adapting the home to accommodate a disability.
Three quarters of accident victims surveyed indicated that they had to pay out of pocket expenses after suffering their injury.
56% of accident victims in Scotland used their savings to pay additional costs after they suffered their injury. Half of Scottish accident victims also either borrowed money from friends and family or used personal loans or credit cards to cover expenses that they are legally entitled to reclaim. Almost a third of those injured paid out of pocket expenses for additional medical treatment or rehabilitation. Almost one in five (18%) respondents had to turn their heating down or off to save money.
Lost earnings, too, were a factor, with almost a quarter of respondents reporting that they had lost over £2,000 in earnings due to their injury, with some respondents losing over £10,000.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a significant split between income groups in terms of concern at the financial impact of injury, with 23% of respondents in the AB group (those in managerial and professional occupations) worried about keeping up with bills, rising to an alarming 63% of those in the DE group, which comprises manual and casual workers.
This paints a stark picture of injured and ill members of the public struggling to make ends meet after suffering a personal injury for which they may well be legally entitled to compensation. Recent research from Legal & General showed that Scottish households have an average of just £1,010 in savings. For the majority of the UK’s working age families, the deadline before hitting the breadline is a mere 11 days, after which point they would be reliant upon friends, family or the government for support.
In light of this, it is interesting to note respondents’ plans for how to spend any compensation they received: 39% of people said they used or would use it to repay debts, 31% to cover costs associated with being off work, and 22% to pay for treatment and medication for their injury. These figures dispel the myth that claims are motivated by greed; rather, they lend weight to the view that the majority of injury sufferers simply want to be restored to the position they were in before the accident or injury took place.
Personal injury and employment
One of the most prevalent worries for personal injury sufferers in Scotland was concern over the impact on their livelihood. 80% of respondents had to take time off work following their injury, and a third of respondents (32%) revealed they feared losing their job as a result. Quite apart from the significant stress and worry suggested by this statistic, a further concern is that the perceived need to safeguard their job may lead people to work through the pain barrier, risk further injury and, depending on the nature of their work, risk the health and safety of the people around them.
And employees’ worries about recovery time were not unfounded. Over a quarter of respondents (27%) were off work for a month or longer, and 16% reported that it was more than three months before they were able to return to work.
Perhaps in light of this it is not surprising that many of those surveyed also acknowledged the impact of their injury on their colleagues, with 57% of respondents reporting that workmates had been negatively impacted as a result of the incident.
3. Scotland’s youth – a generation ignored
Notable among the concerns revealed by the survey was the fact that young people (aged 18-24) were the age group most affected by personal injuries. Those aged 18-24 are just beginning their career, with fewer members of this age bracket paid a salary. Young people are likely to have a smaller financial foundation and be less resilient to the sudden change in circumstances that suffering a personal injury can cause.
A vast majority (86%) of young accident victims surveyed lost earnings after taking time off work following an injury. Among this group, almost a third said they lost over £2,000 in earnings. Fear of unemployment was also a serious concern for injured young people, with 86% of 18- to 24-year-olds reporting that they feared that they would lose their jobs after taking time off work injured.
When asked how they would spend any compensation awarded in the event that their claim was successful, 67% of respondents in this age group indicated they’d pay off debts.
It’s a particular point of concern that every young injury victim we surveyed indicated that they’d suffered lifestyle changes or out of pocket expenses as a result of their non-fault accident. Every respondent in this age bracket said they’d relied on (what are likely to be limited) savings to cover for lost earnings whilst away from work after an injury.
A picture emerges of the young people of Scotland being placed under an enormous strain following a personal injury.
The research undertaken and the analysis presented within this report demonstrate that the real cost of personal injury goes far beyond financial concerns, although these are understandably at the forefront of the Scottish public’s minds.
While the significant monetary cost of personal injury has been clearly outlined in the research, it is important also to consider the wider implications. The fact that many deserving individuals do not claim, especially when they are facing up to negative changes to their lifestyle, is a worrying trend.
Ensuring the ethical provision of ‘no win, no fee’ is clearly something that the legal sector must address as a matter of urgency. We cannot allow legitimate sufferers to be silenced by legislative changes and punitive reform, and National Accident Helpline’s industry-leading consumer charter outlines our dedication to providing a best-in-class service.
The challenge in today’s legal framework is to provide fair and comprehensive access to justice for genuine victims of personal injury. This key issue is one that NAH recognises and one that, along with our Scottish solicitor partners, we are well positioned to address in a professional, empathetic and efficient manner.
This independent research goes some way to illuminating the extent and variety of the impact felt by personal injury victims. Suffering a personal injury can lead to a complex set of consequences, all of which can negatively affect the individual’s emotional and physical wellbeing, and this must not be forgotten.
i Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Both surveys were completed between 11 and 24 March 2014.
ii Personal injury is defined as an injury or illness suffered through no fault of an individual’s own (for example, in a road accident, a slip, trip or fall, medical negligence, work accident or an industrial disease) where there has been a failure in the duty of care.
The first survey was completed by 94 respondents in Scotland as part of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 UK adults. The second was completed by a sample of 104 personal injury victims in Scotland.