WHAT’S IN A NAME? “PAYOUTS”, “WINS” AND THE SERIOUSLY INJURED CLAIMANT

As lawyers we know, or should know, the dangers of putting pejorative labels on things.  In litigation we are fortunate in that an attempt to label parties, or issues, pejoratively, often backfires. However we often see the pejorative labelling of personal injury claimants in the media. In Correa & Ors v BP Plc & Ors [2019] EWHC 232 (QB) Mrs Justice Yip stated

“The settlement does not represent a victory for anyone. Settlement of claims are often reported on the basis that claimants have “won damages”. It would be offensive to describe these claimants as “winning” anything. They have suffered the most terrible loss for which they are to receive some compensation.”

 

This failure of the media to reflect the reality – that a claimant has been seriously injured, needs to be addressed. Often when I see newspapers with headlines describing “wins” and “payouts” I write a (very polite and very serious) invitation to the journalist involved asking them whether they would wish to spend a day with the family of a seriously injured claimant.   I did this at the end of last year in response to a (uncharacteristic) headline from the Times.  As is usually the case I got no response at all.  The suffering and indignities of seriously injured people are, I assume,  not worthy of consideration by the journalists that staff our national press.

HOWEVER… THANK HEAVEN FOR THE LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE

Fortunately Law Society Gazette journalist was reading the interchange.  He told me he was interested.  I, in turn, asked Hilary Wetherell from Irwin Mitchell to help in finding a family who would be willing to assist. Hilary helped and John was a good as his word with his article this week “our clinical negligence award was not a lottery win.”

THE ARTICLE

The following quote will suffice from the mother of an 18 year old boy left seriously brain-injured at birth.

‘You see someone has “won millions” and assume they’re rich. Even friends will make comments about us being rich and I have to tell them I have not got Joseph’s money. His money is in the bank and the trust and protected by the courts.

‘That is what people believe. They read about “winning millions” and it’s a shame the whole story is not reported – those headlines sell papers and I suppose they make the solicitors look good, but I am always saying I have not got access to his money. “

THE IMPORTANCE OF LABELS

We are very fortunate as a profession in that the labels used by the media are rarely taken up by the courts or for that matter defendants (particularly in serious injury cases).  As I have said, if anything labelling is counter-productive in the conduct of litigation, and long may this continue.   However I suspect I will be continuing, for some time to issue regular invitations to journalists who prefer clichés to news.