A NEW court specialising purely in personal injury claims is set to be established in Edinburgh as the first of its kind in Britain.
The ground-breaking court staffed by specialist sheriffs would decide cases from all over Scotland.
Experts say the move will make it quicker and cheaper to win compensation for all kinds of injuries, whether at work, in car accidents or from tripping in the street.
Lawyers working on personal injury cases today said the move was an important step which would help ensure fair judgements on issues which could have far-reaching implications beyond the individuals immediately concerned.
Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors, specialising in personal injury litigation, said: “There is no doubt that with specialisation comes skill and decisions which are correct.
“A wrong decision in a personal injury case can have a serious effect on many other people because as soon as an employer thinks they can get away with cutting corners on health and safety, people will find themselves working in situations where they are at risk.”
The new personal injury court was a key recommendation from the review of Scotland’s civil courts by Lord Gill, published in 2009, and forms a backdrop to a new consultation on the country’s court structure.
Most personal injury claims are currently dealt with by the Court of Session, but it is widely felt the system costs too much and takes too long. Lord Gill said such cases should be moved to the sheriff court.
Mr McGuire said trade unions, whose members are involved in injury claims, and lawyers acting for them had opposed the switch unless it was to involve sheriffs who specialised in such cases.
He said: “At the moment anybody who has an injury claim over £5000 has a right to raise their case in the highest court in the land, to be heard by the best judges and to have the best counsel representing them.”
A specialist court was “absolutely necessary” to ensure people continued to receive justice, he said. And he is still keen to ensure QCs are able to represent clients as well as solicitors.
Details of how many sheriffs will be needed for the new court or how frequently it will sit have yet to be worked out.
Its location within the city has not been decided either, but it could sit in Parliament House, where such cases are currently heard, but with sheriffs presiding instead of Court of Session judges.
Legislation to create the specialist court is expected to be included in the Scottish Government’s list of Bills to be brought forward this time next year. It would then take around 18 months to become law.
Unlike England, Scotland has not seen a big increase in personal injury claims, partly because pay-outs south of the Border tend to be much larger. “Statistics suggest no real change here,” said Mr McGuire. “The adverts you see on television are really just a spillover from the situation in England and Wales.”
He dismisses talk of a “compensation culture”.
He said: “‘Compensation culture’ is just a phrase that has been created to put people off making claims and save the insurance industry money.
“We agree there are far too many claims, but you don’t stop claims by preventing people who are injured seeking just redress, you stop claims by preventing accidents in the first place.”
Stage boss sues theatre for £40k
EARLIER this year it emerged that Dan Travis, a deputy stage manager at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, was suing his bosses for £40,000 after suffering a spinal injury while moving scenery for a play.
He said bosses were liable for the injury, sustained in February 2008, as they failed to weigh the 55kg piece of scenery, which was being used in Six Characters in Search of an Author.
Lawyers for the Lyceum said the sum was “excessive” while also pointing out that the employee was “very overweight”.They also said he lived on “the top floor of a block of flats”.
Mr Travis was off work for five months after sustaining the double disc prolapse in his spine.
Lawyers for Mr Travis, left, said: “No handles were available to assist and the only lifting aids were suction cups, which would not properly adhere to the Perspex.”
Mr Travis said, due to its shape, he “adopted an awkward posture” needing “greater lifting force”.
Fan fell on hard times
IN 2009, “lifelong Jambo” Steven Colquhoun launched a legal action against his beloved side – after slipping on the stadium’s steps.
He said he was unable to drive his taxi for nine weeks following the 2006 plunge. He claimed that he fell on the Tynecastle stairway because diesel from a faulty generator mixed with rainwater, causing him to fall awkwardly. He said stewards ignored his warnings that the spillage would need to be cleaned up, then failed to come to his aid, leaving him lying for 20 minutes.
“I don’t feel anything for Hearts now,” he said. “I’m on painkillers most of the time and there’s no way I’m going back to Tynecastle.”
Driving examiner ‘hurt three times in his car’
DRIVING examiner Andrew Carmichael successfully sued over injuries he suffered during a test.
A judge ruled that a learner driver had braked too suddenly during her driving test in the Capital in December 2006 – causing whiplash.
Mr Carmichael said the test was the worst in his 12 years of instructing.
The case came to court in February 2009 and although an insurance company contested the claim, the court ruled for him.
It then emerged that the examiner was pursuing compensation from two other drivers following road accidents in which he said he had been injured. He claimed the accidents left him unable to go shopping, look after his children and help in the house.
All of the alleged injuries took place within 17 months.