Does Compensation Have to be Spent on Medical Expenses?

by WardBlawg on March 28, 2013

Post providing thoughts on the topical question, does compensation gained from a successful personal injury claim have to be spent on medical expenses?

With the forthcoming introduction of the ban on referral fees, it seems pretty obvious that the government is determined to crack down on what it sees as the ‘compensation culture’. The rights and wrongs of this can be debated elsewhere, but what is plainly obvious is that the anti-compensation mood music has been orchestrated, in large part, by an insurance industry eager to bring down its’ costs.

The line commonly put out by insurers is that reducing the number of compensation claims will result in a lowering of premiums, something which the average consumer will clearly find highly appealing. A quick glance at the figures for motor insurance, however, will throw more than a little doubt on this concept. Put simply, driving on the road today is safer than it’s ever been, with measured and demonstrable improvements having taken place during the period of the last sixty to seventy years. The reasons for this range from improved safety standards in motor vehicles to the stigma now attached to drink driving, but whatever the causes, the overall effect is clear – there are fewer accidents now than there have ever been, and the results of any accidents tend to be less severe.

Despite this, however, as any motorist will tell you, the cost of insuring a car has risen steadily and sometimes dramatically. This simple contrast would tend to put the lie to any idea that a lowering in the amount needing to be paid out will be reflected by a corresponding reduction in the premiums being charged. At the end of the day it has to be assumed that the profit motive will hold sway.

Bearing this in mind, it’s worth inspecting the comments made by spokesmen for the insurance industry with regards to personal injuries compensation, and examining the merit of these claims. Britain’s largest insurer, Aviva, recently published the results of a survey on this matter, and of particular note, over and above the oft repeated claims that compensation drives up premiums, is their assertion that, of almost half a million UK drivers who have made a personal injury claim, only 33% spent their compensation on medical treatment, whilst others used it to pay debts and purchase ‘luxury’ items. According to their survey, almost 10% of those questioned used the compensation to go on holiday.
Doubtless, these figures are intended to shock and horrify the casual observer, and to undermine support in the basic concept of compensation. The problem, however, is that by highlighting what is clearly meant to be ‘mis-spending’ Aviva demonstrate a clear if not wilful misunderstanding of what purpose compensation is intended to serve. reiterates that when you receive an offer of compensation, it will be calculated on the basis of several different factors. The first of these will be the type and severity of your injuries, with different parts of the body generating different set levels of compensation. The second aim of the compensation will be to recover any immediate expenses, such as travel costs or medical bills. A calculation will then be made on the basis of any earnings lost as a result of the injury, both at the time of the accident and, extrapolating, in the future. Finally, the money will be intended to compensate for any loss in your quality of life, and when taking all of these factors into account it’s easy to see the weakness of the Aviva argument.

Compensation payments are in no way intended to pay purely for medical treatment.

Indeed, since the medical treatment most people in the UK seek is provided by the NHS, the idea of seeking payment to cover them is a complete red herring. The whole purpose of any compensation awarded is to allow the innocent victim of negligence to be able to go on living their life, as far as is possible, exactly as they would had the accident not taken place. If an individuals’ earning power has been diminished, even slightly, by their injury and the treatment it requires, then part of the role of compensation is to make up any shortfall. If this happens to then be spent on furniture, debt, or the handily unspecified ‘luxury items’ then so be it.

Once the compensation has been handed over it is the victims’ to do with as they wish. Many people, suffering from injury, find themselves feeling depressed, anxious and stressed, something which is really only natural. One way of beginning to get over this might be taking the time out to go away on holiday, to get away from ordinary life and the bad memories it represents. If compensation can help to fund this then, frankly, it’s doing exactly the job it was intended to do. There are doubtless arguments to be had around the topic of personal injury compensation, and particularly when it comes to dealing with individual disreputable companies which give the practice as a whole a bad name, but innuendo laden smears of this kind, aimed at attacking individuals who have been the victims of negligence, are surely not the way to go about it.

Further comments on this subject welcome.



Legal Blogger at WardBlawg
+Gavin Ward is the founder of WardBlawg, Director of YouBlawg Limited and Operations Director at Moore Legal Technology Limited, specialising in helping law firms, lawyers and businesses grow their businesses online and aiming to help get great legal content published and shared across the web. Gavin created this law blog or ‘blawg’ to aim to contribute useful updates, thoughts and advice to help law firms, businesses and the legal profession in the UK and across the world succeed both online and offline.

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