By Diane Bull - LLB (Hons) Law
IF you feel you are owed compensation because of the way you have been treated at work or because of injury or personal loss, take a tip from one of the team that won Britain's biggest payout - don't go and see a solicitor until you've read this guide.
The UK legal system is not like the American system under which lawyers get a third of any compensation or damages they win for you. Solicitors in Britain have their hands tied by strict rules limiting what they can earn from your case, usually just their costs.
How does that affect your claim?
Quite simply, there is nothing in it for a solicitor to fight for maximum damages for you. Solicitors in the UK do not examine your case from every angle – as they do in the US – to make sure they claim everything you are entitled to claim.
In Britain, solicitors are only concerned about taking on a large volume of cases in which the "compensation" is paid out at an agreed standard rate – like £3,000 for whiplash injuries – and is usually paid by insurance companies after a solicitor simply fills in the correct forms.
Perry Mason, it isn't.
The fact is, YOUR claim could be worth hundreds of thousands pounds, not just a few thousand. This is because depending on what has happened to you, you may have a claim for exemplary damages – not compensation.
Compensation is strictly limited to WHAT YOU HAVE ACTUALLY LOST – whereas exemplary damages are UNLIMITED.
So if for instance you are injured and have to take time off work, your compensation will be limited to your financial losses. If you were off for two months you will get two months pay.
You will see on other websites the "compensation rates" established by the courts in the UK all of which are strictly based on your losses.
But if you have a claim for damages there is NO LIMIT to how much damages a court will set. Damages are designed to set an example. In a famous case in America, a court awarded damages of £1.7m against McDonald's after a pot of hot coffee fell into a woman's lap.
It sounds ridiculous but the coffee was far hotter than it needed to be – to encourage the smell to waft around – and the injuries the woman suffered were horrific.
The award was NOT to compensate her for those injuries – it was to make an example of McDonald's and to make sure firms thought about the safety of their customers.
There is no reason at all why this case could not have been brought in the UK – and the same result achieved.
But solicitors are unlikely to investigate claim with non compensatory damages in mind and therefore you may miss out on the maximum damages you could be