British education chiefs' £500 payout to a teacher hurt restraining a pupil cost £60,000 in legal fees
By JR on Saturday, December 31, 2011
Education bosses ordered to pay £500 to a teacher injured while restraining a pupil were landed with a legal bill of more than £60,000 for that single case.
This example is one of the most disturbing discovered as a Daily Mail investigation revealed a growing ‘compensation culture’ in the classroom.
Freedom of Information requests disclose that councils across England are being bombarded with claims from teachers, often for trivial injuries.
But, in many cases, the compensation payments are dwarfed by the legal fees run up by solicitors.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers, often backed by their unions, are taking on no-win, no-fee lawyers to bring even the most speculative claims.
Last night ministers were urged to clamp down on the practice amid warnings it was having a ‘chilling effect’ on schools and other public services.
Our survey suggested that councils paid out an estimated £6.7million as a result of claims by teachers last year. But for every pound paid as compensation, another £1.25 went on lawyers and legal fees.
In one of the worst cases, North Lincolnshire Council paid £500 compensation to the teacher hurt restraining a pupil, but the authority also had to pay a bill for costs of £61,464.
A spokesman said fighting the claim in court had led to a big drop in the payout because of ‘contributory negligence’ but acknowledged it had resulted in much higher legal bills.
In another case, Wirral Council, Merseyside, paid £2,000 to a member of school staff who stubbed their toe on a box but then faced a bill for costs of £14,300.
Walsall Council in the West Midlands paid £1,500 to a teacher who suffered a strain falling over at school but had to pay £14,888 in costs linked to the claim.
In Southend-on-Sea, Essex, the council sanctioned a £13,500 payout to a teacher who was assaulted by a special needs pupil yet the bill for legal costs was £75,800.
In Dorset, a school employee was awarded £1,650 after slipping on posters left on the floor. Legal costs totalled £11,000.
In March, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke unveiled proposals to reform the no-win, no-fee system. But last night, Tory MP Philip Davies said ministers may have to go further. ‘This is becoming a massive problem,’ said Mr Davies. ‘Taxpayers’ money we can ill afford is being diverted from frontline services to fund a growing army of lawyers.
‘The Government has to find a way of scaling back this compensation culture. That will require clamping down on the activities of no-win, no-fee lawyers. ‘It is quite wrong that people are able to pursue claims – some dubious at best – without any risk to themselves. ‘This problem is not limited to the education sector. It is having a chilling effect right across our public services.’
John O’Connell, research director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s particularly frustrating that lawyers are ramping up charges way above the pay-out itself.
‘Sadly there is a growing compensation culture. It’s disappointing that big payments are often made for seemingly little more than everyday accidents, wasting taxpayers’ cash and making staff paranoid about carrying out their jobs.’
In total, 130 of the 152 education authorities in England responded to a survey about cases in the last year. They revealed the total of compensation and costs was £5.8million. When estimates for the other 22 councils are factored in, the overall total of successful compensation claims and costs comes to £6.7million. There were just over 400 successful claims for compensation, with the average cost to councils of £16,600 each.
Yet of that cash, the injured teacher collected £7,300 while legal fees amounted to £9,300.
David Bott, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, accused councils of pushing up fees by refusing to settle claims earlier. ‘The remedy is for defendants to put their own house in order. They need to stop dragging their heels admitting liability and agreeing settlements,’ he said.
But Government sources said councils were right to fight unjustified or excessive claims.