Compensation for accidents at work isn’t always well received and the ‘compensation culture’ that is usually credited with beginning in the UK is feared by a lot of the mass media here in the UK. Just over the past week we’ve heard of a few cases that have been released under the Freedom of Information Act of compensation relating to a number of supposedly trivial claims.
For example, the Daily Mail reported in one article just last week a £23,000.00 payout to a worker who slipped and a Lancashire school that ended up paying over £700,000.00 for over 100 compensation claims to staff and students.
The criticism of such claims tends to be either that the claim should not have been brought in the first place or that the compensation awarded is too high.
The difficulty is, however, that without knowing the details of these cases it’s extremely difficult for the public to judge whether they think the claim was justified or not. It is often the case that, an employee is injured during the course of his/her employment, through no fault of his/her own and the employer refuses to pay his/her wage whilst they remain on sick leave. The employee gets into arrears with his/her mortgage, he/she can’t pay the family’s utility bills and he/she consequently builds up debts. This can often be the trigger for making a claim.
The law relating to recovery of compensation in an employer’s liability claim is that an employee should not make a ‘profit’ from the claim, they should only be financially put back into the position that they would have been in had they not had the accident together with compensation to reflect the pain, suffering and loss of amenity (hobbies, walking the dog etc) caused by the accident.
Often, there is a loss of property resulting from an accident at work which can include personal effects like jewellery and costs to cover exceptional medical expenses. Victims of long-term injuries often need to adapt their homes to cope with their disability or pay for care either short or long term. All of this has to be factored into the compensation.
On top of these costs are some which are more difficult to calculate. Loss of earnings is often controversial when an employee is no longer able to continue with his pre-accident occupation due to his injuries. This means that the court has to try and assess what his chances are of getting another job doing something he would be capable of and what his wage would be likely to be and whether he would be promoted before retirement. All of this is very much crystal ball gazing but based on statistics and an assessment of the accident victim.
Serious injuries often cause post-traumatic stress disorder which also merits compensation. Stress is subjective but it does not mean that it should go unrecognised and it is not uncommon for an employee injured on a piece of machinery to develop a fear of returning to that machine, in the same way as a road traffic victim may develop a fear of driving or being a passenger. In particular cases, negative press coverage can worsen the effects of stress.
Claims for accidents at work aren’t always black and white but the levels of compensation agreed upon are awarded as a result of a well established and generally effective approach used by the courts. Although occasionally big payouts do find their way into the news, that’s no indication that the claim or amount of the payout was unjust, it’s very often just a case of exceptional circumstances.