Heated debate over compensation culture continues!

The Telegraph online news service recently reported details of compensation payouts that had been made to staff and students of various schools throughout England and Wales. Rekindling the debate on Britain’s so-called ‘compensation culture’, the report suggests that during 2009 teachers in English and Welsh schools made claims for compensation that totalled more than £18 million. This staggering figure has attracted criticism from Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, who was reported as saying that taxpayers “will be outraged to see so much of their money going to dodgy compensation claims in their schools”. Of course, it is highly unlikely that Mr. Sinclair is privy to the specific merits of each and every claim, so to argue that they are all “dodgy” is more than unfair. In fact, further details of the report, which were made available through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, highlight how personal injuries sustained in the workplace can take a significant toll on victims.

Despite Mr. Sinclair further contending that taxpayers’ money was simply being wasted on what he considers to be a “free-cash culture”, there is nothing at all wrong with the awarding of compensation to personal injury victims. On the contrary, legal damages constitute the most effective measure through which justice can be served to those who suffer harm as the result of somebody else’s negligence. By brandishing such justice as a major component of the so-called “free-cash culture”, Mr. Sinclair is effectively arguing against the most fundamental remedy of negligence, which aims to go some way towards undoing a significant wrong. In this respect, nobody should feel ashamed or reluctant to initiate a claim for damages where a personal injury has been sustained – it is a basic legal right of people living in the UK.

A portion of the claims disclosed in the FOI documents refer to settlements that have attracted heavy media scrutiny. In the current economic climate, any substantial payout will be met with some degree of scepticism and resentment; however, scant regard is often given to the physical, mental and emotional injuries that have been sustained by the victims. In one example, a teacher was awarded £280,000 in damages after being attacked by a pupil at a special school in Nottingham. After falling during the attack, the teacher sustained nerve damage to her back and head, whilst she also developed post-traumatic stress disorder, which forced her to leave the profession. Clearly, any incident that causes physical, mental and professional harm to an individual is deserving of compensation.

In other cases, payouts were made to teachers and staff members who suffered a variety of injuries in the workplace. Such cases included a teacher who was awarded £7,780 after sustaining an injury whilst straining to reach classroom equipment and another who secured £17,568 in compensation after falling over in the school building. One teacher in East London received £80,000 after being knocked over by pupils coming down a flight of stairs – the resulting knee injury forcing her out of teaching. However, it is not only the teachers and staff members who have suffered injuries at school: one student in North Wales received £10,483 after falling over on school grounds and a parent received £3,500 in similar circumstances. In short, where an injury has been caused by someone else’s negligence, it is advisable for victims to contact specialist personal injury solicitors without delay. As Chris Keates of the teachers’ NASUWT union remarked, compensation is “cold comfort if you end up mentally and physically ill”.

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