THE BLOG

The Rise of US-Style Litigation Culture in the UK

19/08/2014 17:45 BST | Updated 19/10/2014 10:59 BST

It was recently revealed that the government will enforce legislation from 2015 to provide volunteers and SMEs with greater protection from negligence claims. This unprecedented move, announced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, comes on the heels of a recent poll which showed that 78 per cent of Britons alleged that they found it "socially and morally" acceptable to take an employer to court over personal injury claims. Additionally, the study found an overwhelming 96 per cent are today more likely to seek damages than they would have been 10 years ago.

The statistics cause concern because they indicate an unequivocally rising trend. What they fail to explain however, is why there is a rise in what is commonly known as "compensation or litigation culture" in the UK that is akin to its US counterpart.

Similarities between such cases in the US and the UK are potent illustrations of how the issue in both places has spiralled out of control. In Philadelphia, a man was recently accused of orchestrating a $5-million insurance fraud scheme using deer carcasses, blood and fur to make it look like cars had smashed into animals. Insurance companies would then cover the repairs and pay for exaggerated claims, while he and a host of co-conspirators secured a lucrative contract to fix municipal vehicles with the help of a corrupt bureaucrat.

This much resembles the UK examples where fake car crashes have pushed the level of insurance fraud to a record £1.3bn in 2013, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and where a Doncaster-based insurance company has only just recently halted two fraudulent claims which could have cost the company more £100,000.

Worse, this epidemic is not restricted to car-related fraud cases and can provoke any one person that feels wronged to start a claim. Recent British cases have included employees to sue their former employers for denying them a reference to stress or deafness claims because of noise in the workplace. No external condition appears off-limit anymore.

Many have different opinions about the true culprit of this rise in litigation, but with most issues, it is the interplay between several different factors, often not appearing directly related, that bring about a shift in consciousness and a change in behaviour. Independent research commissioned by Norwich Union has identified that British society has lost its sense of collective responsibility and has given way to a selfishly-motivated and individualistic mind-set. This is particularly pronounced in younger generations, who have not "grown into" this attitude but, rather, never experienced anything else but this "blame and claim" culture. Within this already precarious scenario the media further adds fuel to the fire by enhancing the perception that "you are what you have" and by placing blame squarely on the claimants for matters that are ultimately out of their control instead of holding the negligent parties accountable too.

New legislation may help with regulating this frenzy somewhat. It will ensure that the court gives consideration to the protection of people that have mindfully organised an activity in the face of an unfortunate accident. It also covers incidents where a person acting in emergency has courageously stepped in to help someone in danger and was hurt as a result.

However, what it will not do is eradicate the root of the problem. It will not address the underlying opportunist and individualist mentality that has come to aggravate the situation. The rise of a British litigation culture has a serious opportunity cost, but its root is a social issue, which if not acknowledged will most definitely lead to more serious problems in the future.

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