Mirror Group Phone Hacking Raises Bar for Compensation Payouts

What it must be like to face that junction. To the right lies fame, celebrity status and fortune. But the caveat? Knowing that you’ll never truly know peace again. Or to the left, we see the long, familiar road of anonymity: privacy almost guaranteed; financial freedom all but.

It’s a tough call. Life in the public eye is not for everyone, but goes with the territory of stardom. Even so, there must be limits.

Phone Hacking: Crossing the Line

The media must allow celebrities to draw a line between their public persona and how much of their private life they’re willing to share.

Once established, all parties should respect and adhere to those boundaries.

In the case of the Mirror Group, and before them the News of the World, ‘journalists’ metaphorically spat upon any semblance of ‘off-limits’.

When you see journalistic tendencies such as those revealed in court last week, it makes you wonder if anyone’s safe.

For the vast majority of us, no one would be interested in hacking our voice mails. Anonymity is the deterrent dissuading those who can from cracking the code and publishing the humdrum chapters of our lives.

For the eight soaperstars who received unprecedented damages last week, that’s not the case. They were braver. They turned right at that junction. They handed a slice of their lives to the public.

Squeezing Celebrity Juice until it Overflowed

Such a move is always a gamble. For them, they chanced that the fame and fortune of TV, film and the football pitch would add more value to their lives than invasions of privacy would detract from it.

For lengthy durations at the beginning of the noughties, the odds were unknowingly stacked against them. All eight recipients of the record-breaking compensation were victims of systematic phone hacking.

Whenever the journalists involved needed or wanted juice to fill out their headlines, they’d log into the Orange database and squeeze out stories from texts and voicemails left thereupon.

Apart from the obvious atrocity of the Mirror Group’s actions, these cases raised the bar from a punitive prospective.

The punishment: befitting the crime and the injustice

The amounts of compensation paid to the victims for this type of crime were unprecedented. Sadie Frost alone, a consistent target over a four year period, won over a quarter of a million pounds.

Compare that to payouts for prior breaches of privacy. Naomi Campbell, another long-time target of headline hungry news hounds, is a prime example. When her cocktail menu of drugs was published alongside snaps of her leaving therapy, courts awarded her £4,000 in damages.

The attitude of the judge, Mann J, to the long-running breaches of privacy left a predominant mark on the verdicts. It also served to differentiate the compensation payouts from prior awards of the same ilk:

  • He threw out arguments that these breaches of privacy were akin to cases that had gone before.

  • Where evidence had been destroyed, rather than settle for the middle ground, he presumed the worst.

  • Yes, he was intent on punishing the crimes.

    • But it was the amount of distress suffered by the victims that helped determine the level of their respective payouts.

One would hope that phone providers have done their bit to shore up their databases. You’d hope that the punishments serve as a warning for others tempted to encroach on privacy in the future. But for now, these payouts are what you call justice, to a Mann.

Personal Injury Introducer Firm Wound Up Over Nuisance Calls

Well, it just had to come: a personal injury firm fined for ‘spam’. The unsolicited calls Direct Assist made over a sustained 18-month period landed the firm in hot water with ICO.

The company, who were based in Bolton, have since wound up. But their story will perhaps deter other lawyers from adopting similar practises through third party introducers.

When marketing calls overstep the mark

The TPS and ICO began monitoring Direct Assist in January 2013. Between then and July 2014, the full scale of their aggressive marketing unfolded.

Here’s a snapshot of how the firm broke the law:

  • staff called one number 470 times;
  • one household was told that they’d be subject to such calls for three years or until they made a claim;
  • the aggressive nature of the callers put one deaf, elderly lady off answering the phone altogether.

It wasn’t as if they didn’t have fair warning. All told, TPS (with whom you register if you want to stop nuisance calls) made over 500 attempts to contact the personal injury referrers.

The requests fell on deaf ears. As it transpired, Direct Assist deliberately got their employees to call people who’d registered with TPS.

It’s this type of behaviour that gives genuine solicitors a bad name. Very often, the firms representing personal injury lawyers don’t identify themselves as a separate entity.

Is it because they’re less credible as an introducer, rather than a solicitor calling direct? Or is cold-calling beneath injury firms, even though they’re happy to deal with cases brought to their door by referral agents?

Either way, in this instance the catalogue of complaints culminated in ICO submitting notice to the firm. It was the final nail in the coffin and Direct Assist ceased trading.

Let’s hope there’s a stake through the heart and we don’t see this type of practise rise again.

Heads-up: what the public and injury firms can do to uphold justice

If you’ve registered your number with TPS, but are still receiving unsolicited marketing calls, there is something you can do about it.

Much in the same way as reporting ‘spam’ email to your mail provider, you can complain about nuisance calls or texts.

ICO has a dedicated webpage for reporting nuisance correspondence for the general public.

For firms worried about breaking the law, there’s also a guide, based on Data Protection, covering what is and isn’t acceptable in the digital communication age.

ICO urge the public and personal injury firms to read the respective documents. There remain solid reasons to inform people who’ve been injured what they’re entitled to if it wasn’t their fault. The culpable should go punished.

But there are right and wrong ways of doing so. The last thing either party want is to have to make a nuisance of themselves to bring the guilty to justice.

Probe leads to arrests for buying data about accident victims

Claims management firms have taken the spotlight again. Three people working for these firms, one of them from the LV= insurance company, were arrested this week after a probe revealed they bought vehicular accident victims’ information from insurance companies, otherwise known as the “cash for crash” business.

Personal details of customers of insurance companies that have been involved in vehicular accidents were supposedly sold for nearly £17,000, making it worse for the controversy that has hounded insurance companies for a long time. Just recently, Aviva, Britain’s largest insurer was on the news with the very same issue. It has two employees that will be going to court for this very claim.

Just how profitable is this “cash for crash business” and why do claims management firms go to great lengths to go as far as bribe insurance employees for information?

Reports have come in that personal injury claims such as whiplash or repairing vehicles involved in an accident means millions of pounds of claim fees, often with rip-off rates.

While this maybe profitable for claims firms, this has a negative effect to consumers at the tail end. As more claims are being pursued and “cashed out”, vehicle insurance premiums continue to soar. Studies show that premiums have gone up to an average of £93 per policy annually.

This isn’t the only controversy claims management firms have gone through. Most of them have been fined for making nuisance text and automated phones calls. One firm has been fined £80,000 for doing nuisance calls – imagine one customer having received 407 calls from them alone!

There has been a call to further toughen up laws regarding the payment referral scheme of insurance companies to claims management firms. However, the ICO is first to admit that even if laws were implemented in 2013, the “cash for crash” trading remains lucrative.

One of the reasons why the trade continues to be thriving is the law doesn’t have much teeth to sink into guilty parties. Individuals found guilty get no more than a fine and a slap on the wrist if they are tried under the Data Protection Act. The Commissioner wants tougher penalties like including jail time.

The three employees arrested in reports were found to have contacted a person who has received injuries from a vehicular accident, subsequently receiving a pay-out that was up to 40% lower than the amount usually paid by insurance companies.

Insurance company LV= claims director Martin Milliner promises that they will be working closely with the Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department for the resolution of the case.

Customer data protection is still the priority of insurance companies, most of them claim. But the truth is, a recent Aviva study shows that claims increased by 9% in 2014, increasing pay-outs to a mind-blowing £2.5billion. And the cincher? Ninety-six percent of these claims were from third parties, exactly from those controversial claims management firms that rip-off customer victims.

£26 million spent on compensation awards for teachers, staff

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended April 2015:

It’s been revealed that a massive £26 million was spent over the course of last year on personal injury compensation claims made by school teachers and staff.

The new information came to light right as the NAWST and NUT union conferences began this week, showcasing just exactly how much teachers and staff were pulling down after their personal injury solicitors got their hands on local authorities. There were some rather impressive rewards associated with work accident claims, such as the mind-boggling £74,000 a 53 year old teacher was awarded after she tripped on a carpet and fell against some classroom shelving, suffering a serious head injury that actually saw her memory impaired as a result.

Claims measured in the thousands, with one teacher walking away with £5,000 after she fell over after she caught her foot on a coat. Other injuries, such as the one a teacher suffered after slipping on a wet patch of floor, saw an impressive £70,000 being awarded to the teacher; she actually ended up having to retire early due to her injuries, especially as the fall triggered an early onset of arthritis in her hip. In another case, a PE teacher who injured himself as he demonstrated the long jump limped off with a £41,000 award because of the soft tissue injuries he suffered to his leg as a result.

It’s obviously no laughing matter at how many serious injuries occur in schools across the UK. However, it could be said that the millions local authorities have had to pay out for legitimate injuries could have been put to better use somewhere else if only these schools were in better condition. You tell me – do you think that £26 million couldn’t have been poured into upkeep and maintenance, which would have then avoided all those injuries in the first place? I’ll wager there would have even been millions left over after keeping all these schools in better kip.

Look, I’m not saying that accidents don’t happen – of course they do, and everyday. But these accidents can have expensive consequences – wouldn’t it be best to try to limit them as much as possible?

Insurers plan in-depth look at personal injury claims fraud

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 31 March 2015:

The insurance industry through its recently formed Insurance Fraud Taskforce says it has grand plans to look at the personal injury claims fraud issue in depth.

The new taskforce – it was put together in December of last year – released a preliminary report last week alongside the latest Budget. The insurer-led group says it’s got its eye on four select topics in order to keep things both manageable and focused; all in all it says it’s going to be looking at the role of fraud data, policyholder behaviour, fraud deterrents in the claims process and the impetus behind encouraging fraudulent claims in the first place. Both the British Insurance Brokers’ Association and the Association of British Insurers are on board with the project, agreeing to update their fraud prevention guidance by the end of the year.

The goal of the taskforce is of course to reduce fraud when it comes to things like accident claims. Whiplash claims are especially injurious to the insurance industry, thanks to it being exceedingly hard to disprove a diagnosis and that the evidence of whiplash consists mostly in subjective, hard-to-quantify ways. The idea being bandied about by the taskforce is that most of the whiplash fraud insurers are experiencing isn’t from ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers or claimants that are making up injuries out of whole cloth but instead individuals who might have ended up with a legitimate, though minor, injury and make the decision to exaggerate the extent of their pain and suffering in hopes of getting a bit more than they would have from a personal injury compensation award than they would otherwise.

Of course that’s not to say that organised fraud doesn’t play a role as well. We’ve all heard of those ‘crash for cash’ schemes where a ring of scammers get together to stage or cause accidents; it’s so widespread that sometimes even public transport bus drivers get in on the action, but it’s usually easy to spot because most criminals are, to put it mildly, bloody stupid and end up making it obvious that they’re trying to pull a fast one.

Still, it remains to be seen what kinds of solutions this taskforce is going to be able to come up with. Honestly if you ask me I think that as soon as they plug a few holes in the dam another dozen will spring up.

Solicitors score major victory for sick holidaymakers

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 24 March 2015:

Personal injury solicitors hare secured a major victory for sick holidaymakers, securing a reward of more than £350,000 in personal injury compensation.

Back in 2012 a number of families went on holiday to a supposedly ‘luxury’ Egyptian resort, only to have their good times ruined by a rather nasty outbreak of a virulent gastric illness. It wasn’t just poor timing that ripped through the tour group though; in fact, the so-called ‘4 star resort’ was a nightmarish display of poor management, leading to meals of undercooked and cross-contaminated food being served to families. In some instances the horrid, unsafe food was even re-used from one meal to the next!

If that wasn’t enough to turn your stomach – and send you running for the loo – holidaymakers reported that raw sewage was spotted spilling up and overflowing from drains situated close to the children’s pool on the resort. Amazingly no one died, but guests were stricken with diarrhoea, Cryptosporidium and Salmonella poisoning.

Well, at least now a large number of the families with sickened children that were subjected to this nighmarish hellscape of a holiday have prevailed on their personal injury compensation claims. In fact, 32 families with children that fell grievously ill have reached a settlement with the tour operator responsible for the entire mess. The company at first denied all liability in the matter – can you believe it!? – but now a Birmingham County Court judge has signed off on the large packet of compensation, with some children receiving as much as £20,000 each.

I’m absolutely bloody disgusted by this one, ladies and gents. How do things get so bad at a resort that you’re re-using spoiled and undercooked food in the meals you serve your guests, not to mention the deplorable conditions of human waste spilling out unseemingly close to the children’s pool? It turns my stomach – much in the way that stomachs were turning at that resort, I’m sure – and I can only hope that those poor kids can go on to have a nice holiday somewhere in the future that isn’t filthy and horrid.

Personal injury lawyers to blame for compensation culture?

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 17 Mar 2015:

Here we go again: apparently personal injury lawyers are to blame for so-called ‘compensation culture’ when it comes to increasing costs for them.

Aviva, one of the largest insurers in the UK, started complaining and whinging about how personal injury compensation claims brought by scammers – and of course all those crafty personal injury solicitors that chase down ambulances and convince all these barely-injured people to make accident claims against these poor, defenceless insurance companies. Yes, that’s right, there’s nothing but scammers and criminals working both sides of the equation according to Aviva.

Now I’m not going to say that there isn’t fraud when it comes to personal injury claims made against insurers. Whiplash claims in particular are a problem, and Aviva says that road accidents have decreased by 30 per cent while claims have increased by 62 per cent. But that doesn’t mean that the majority of injured Brits seeking compensation are thieves and liars!

Honestly, people get hurt all the time, and through no fault of their own. If insurers had their way they would never pay out at all, no matter how badly people ended up injured, but people deserve to be made whole after being injured through no fault of their own. In fact, Aviva had the temerity to complain that 96 per cent of the claims they deal with come from third party claims like injury lawyers.

They complained about it! Are they mad? Of course people seek legal advice after getting hurt! Nobody knows how to represent themselves in court against a defendant with massively deep pockets that can afford high-powered lawyers of its own. I’m sure Aviva would love to just chew up all those self-represented people who were legitimately injured and toss them out on their ear.

Honestly, injured people need the protections of personal injury lawyers so they’re not buggered six ways to Sunday by big insurers like Aviva. Maybe if the insurance industry wasn’t so bloody stingy people wouldn’t need to use lawyers to get what they deserve out of them. I know I’d never go head-to-head with an insurer without the biggest, meanest personal injury law firm I could find.

Personal injury solicitors soak local authority for £1.5m

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 10 March 2015:

Personal injury solicitors have gone to town on Cumbria County Council over the past three years, soaking the authority for £1.5 million in claims.

I have to feel a bit of sympathy for the local authority – the council’s rather cash-strapped as it is, and then it has to deal with a bevy of personal injury claims coming its way that extract a massive amount of cash from its coffers. On the other hand, the council has no one to blame but themselves – according to a Freedom of Information request, the majority of the compensation awards – around £1.3 million – were due to people tripping, falling and suffering from bruises and broken bones because of broken and uneven footpaths or roads that the council should have mended.

People are all up in arms about the massive payouts, and as well they should be – but they should also put things into perspective. Only 22 per cent of the personal injury compensation claims brought against the council actually succeeded. The amount of cash the council didn’t end up paying out likely dwarfs the amount they did – but nobody takes that into account, do they?

Meanwhile, maybe if the authority actually got its potholes filled in a reasonable amount of time this issue wouldn’t have happened. I wonder what would have been more expensive in the long run – employing council workers to go about and mend all those cracks and potholes or paying out on all those accident claims? I’ll wager that the former would have cost Cumbria County Council less, but hindsight is of course 20/20 isn’t it?

I’d like to think that the county learned its lesson from these payouts, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Like I said, Cumbria County Council is particularly cash-strapped right now, and is likely to have to make many of its staff redundant to cut back on its massive deficit. This isn’t going to make maintenance much better – and with the winter finally turning to spring the roadways are likely to be a complete mess after such a wet, soggy season. If I were you I’d be careful where you step!

Sometimes it’s the personal injury lawyers who are to blame

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 3 March 2015:

It’s not something that’s easy to face or even to talk about, but sometimes the injured suffer because their personal injury lawyers are to blame for suffering.

In fact, there’s a very noteworthy example of this that just hit the news this week in the form of how 42 year old Shaunna Baynes ended up in a world of pain and suffering after celebrating her 40th birthday. Shaunna had a fantastic time visiting Graceland in the United States – the woman is a self-avowed Elvis fanatic – only to suffer damage to her hip and a broken nose on the flight back when she stumbled over a British Airways worker.

After getting home, the injured woman contacted a personal injury solicitor to seek legal advice in making an accident claim against British Airways. However, the solicitor firm neglected to make a personal injury compensation claim in time, resulting in Shaunna being given £2,000 from the lawyers instead as a consolation prize.

Now, I will say that the solicitor firm at least did the right thing in owning up to its mistake and paying the poor injured woman out of their own pocket. However, I also have to say this: what sort of incompetent pillocks manage to cock up so badly like this?

Do you know what happened? The solicitor in question thought he had three years to make a claim when the limit is actually two. For someone who claims to have had years of experience dealing with personal injuries, an oversight of this level is the equivalent of forgetting that you need to have your licence and insurance before getting behind the wheel to drive. It’s infuriating and absolutely unbelievable that people like this have been operating in this world.

Who knows what other ways these solicitors have cocked up other cases? They could be ruining lives and bollixing up court cases left and right. It’s rather an embarrassment to the entire personal injury community, if you ask me; I know I would be absolutely bloody mortified if this happened to a law firm I was involved with. Lord, I would never be able to show my face in public again

Why do personal injury claims take so long sometimes?

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 24 Feb 2015:

If there’s one thing that always makes people wonder, it’s how sometimes personal injury claims can take literally decades to resolve themselves.

In fact, if you were to look at the news this week you’d surely leave scratching your head, as one of the most prominent stories in the press was how 24 year old Annie Woodland, a woman who had suffered life-changing injuries in a near-drowning when she was 10 years old, had to wait nearly a decade and a half to receive her personal injury compensation award. That’s an incredible delay by any stretch of the imagination; sure, the wheels of justice might grind slowly, but 14 years? That seems a bit much if you ask me.

Or if you ask anyone, really. Even personal injury solicitors will wince and say that such a long turnaround is rather unpleasantly rare. So what caused the long delay? Well, the secret is, of course, in determining who was going to pay Woodland’s £3 million compensation award. The woman had been on a school trip to Basildon’s Gloucester Park Pool at the time of the injury, but she and the rest of the pupils were under the supervision of both a contracted swim instructor and a lifeguard for the facility; there was a conflict between whether Essex Council should be paying for her injuries or if the contractor should be.

Essex Council fought long and hard against paying the bill, stating that if they acquiesced it would mean that it could find itself liable for any number of accidents and injuries that occur on school trips even when pupils were being supervised by non-council employees and staff. The council went on to say that it would likely have to encourage fewer trips to be taken by schoolchildren as a result, something it called a ‘chilling’ effect that would negatively impact the education of children within the local authority’s reach. Meanwhile I think it just came down to not wanting to shell out that kind of cash, despite all the pain and suffering that Woodland has gone through since she nearly drowned.

So on the one hand I can kind of understand Essex Council’s position – but on the other hand, making this injured woman wait 14 years on a procedural issue? Kind of makes my stomach turn.

Man injured in motorbike accident wins £10m accident claim

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 17 Feb 2015:

Want a cool £10 million? No problem – just get yourself nearly crippled in a motorcycle accident and let your personal injury solicitors do the rest.

I’m just taking the piss, of course. No one “just” gets themselves involved in a serious road traffic accident in a bid to earn millions of pounds in personal injury compensation. In fact it’s likely to be one of the most excruciating and life-changing experiences of your life – much as it was for Macel Beasley, the 31 year old man who was so severely injured in a motorbike crash a few years ago his heart stopped a terrifying 8 times on the way to hospital via air ambulance. Not only that, but he was in a coma for two long weeks until he finally regained consciousness.

Meanwhile, once Beasley woke back up, it was readily apparent that the physical head trauma he had sustained in the accident had left him with the kind of severe brain damage that you simply don’t walk away from unscathed. I mean that literally, too – the poor man needs a wheelchair to get about for much of the time, and he’s in need of constant care. He’s also now the recipient of a terrible impairment to his speech – as if the rest of his long-lasting injuries weren’t enough to have to deal with.

Thankfully for Beasley, the other person involved in the accident that left him with these injuries – the driver of the VW Golf that cut him off and collided with him – was determined to be fully liable for the accident. That means he gets every penny of the £4.27 million lump sum payment in the terms of his settlement – and the yearly £175,000 payments for the rest of his life in order to help pay for his needs. All in all it’s around £10 million in value, his compensation award. Beasley plans to purchase a house that can accommodate his specialised accessibility needs and to ensure he has the round the clock care that he also needs in order to live as comfortably as possible.

How comfortable that will be is anyone’s guess, of course. I know that no amount of cash would ever replace the use of my legs or soothe the constant pain of knowing that I suffered severe brain damage. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?

It pays to have friends in high places, like Wirral’s mayor

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 10 Feb 2015:

It’s proof positive of the old adage that it’s good to have friends in high places: the soon-to-be stepson of Wirral’s mayor just got off Scot-free.

Jack Nolan, the future stepson of the mayor of Wirral, ended up getting a conditional discharge over a drunken altercation where he assaulted a woman at a charity event. The 18 year old Nolan ended up only having to pay a nominal £250 personal injury compensation award to the injured woman despite the fact that he most likely terrified her.

Now I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s simply because Cllr Steve Foulkes is marrying Nolan’s mother Elaine this summer that he got such a white-glove treatment from the courts. It took a massive procession of character witnesses to back up Nolan, including head teachers and a procession of parish priests and other clergy, before district judge Michael Abelson sentenced him to paying the nominal fee on the accident claim. The judge said that applying any harsher sentences would have had ‘devastating’ effects on the ability for Nolan to pursue a career in the future.

Meanwhile, the event that got Nolan in such hot water, the Mayor’s Ball in October, which was held at Thornton Hall Hotel, saw him drunkenly threatening staff with a fire extinguisher and forks. Nolan admitted to grabbing the injured woman by her ponytail and forcing her head forward into a table all whilst shouting gibberish such as ‘you’re the one’ and other such drunken bits of wisdom. At the time, police were called and escorted Nolan into a van. The 18 year old insisted that his mother was the mayor and that she would sort everything out. He then sicked up inside the van.

As borderline amusing the story is, I’m rather well annoyed that this little bastard gets away with his actions simply because he’s got a so-called ‘spotless’ record. Are you truly telling me that the fact his mum isn’t about to marry the mayor of Wirral isn’t playing a role in this? If you do you’re bloody naive. And what about the injured woman who ended up completely humiliated by this teenager? Is that fair to her that all she got was an insulting £250 from her personal injury claim? Disgusting!