Starving Lawyers in the UK

I suppose there’s something about the UK that I don’t know, that might explain this:

LONDON (Reuters) – A school in eastern England was ordered to pay 19,000 pounds ($30,140) Monday after a 16-year-old girl lost nearly all her fingers when she put her hands in a bucket of plaster of Paris during an art lesson….

The court was told that temperatures up to 60C can be generated in large quantities of plaster and the girl, who was not named in court, suffered terrible burns.

After a series of 12 operations, she was left with no fingers on one hand and just two on the other….

The school was fined a total of 16,500 pounds and ordered to pay 2,500 pounds in legal costs, the Press Association reported.

As an American, the strange part to me is that the judgment was for about $26,000 in fines and about $4,000 in  legal costs. Of course, there is no judgment for medical costs, since the UK National Health Service covers that anyway. In the US, this would have ended up with an award of millions of dollars, including a percentage for the lawyers.

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4 thoughts on “Starving Lawyers in the UK

  1. It’s variable, some medical (cf. education) misadventures pay out thousands more, and they can be over 1 million. And the Medical Protection Society bemoan the increasing adoption of US type practices in the UK.

    But you are right in identifying this as a problem. Dealing with the rubbish in the Us courts would go a long way to fixing health.

    Maximum costs for life lost and injury is sorely needed.

  2. It seems to me that if the US had some form of public health care system, there would be no way to justify the outrageous damage awards in cases like this.

    The reason a US jury would have awarded this girl millions of dollars is because they would have estimated the current cost of her restorative surgery; then they would have estimated the continuing cost of her health care in current terms; then they would have projected the cost of continuing care over an average lifespan of about 60 more years, given the rate of increase in health care costs over the past few years. Then they would have factored in the cost of occupational therapy and compensation for lost wages over perhaps a 50-year working life. Then they would have added some additional, arbitrary amount for pain and suffering. Then they would calculate a percentage for legal fees, since the lawyers would have taken such a case on a percentage basis, knowing that mounting an aggressive suit is the only way the school would cough up such a large award.

    In other words, the entire weight of the girl’s future would rest on the jury’s ability to foresee all her medical needs for the next 60 years, and this extreme emotional pressure would compel them to soak the defendant for all they’re worth. This is the natural result of promoting a “winner-take-all” and “get-them-before-they-get-you” business mentality, but for some reason corporate libertarians only complain about it when individuals get the upper hand.

    Tort reform will never succeed in the US until the self-serving business interests show that they do more than just maximize profits until it’s time to cut and run. (Even though in this case the defendant would be a local government entity, they would suffer from the same prejudice as a private corporation would.)

  3. The things you describe occur are taken into account in UK medical cases. Yet the insurance for doctors is still 10 fold less than the US.

    See the UK medical protection society casebook which it publishes for the education of doctors, and medical pitfalls to learn from and avoid.

    The problem with a public system is not that it doesn’t work at all, rather it is not the best system to maximise cheap health care to the most people. And there are social issues that would be less with private paying and provision.

    Basically I see several issues with health costs. If the US has excess costs as a semi-private system, then they will be worse under a more public system; that is the problems are there but I do not think they are due to lack of social provision.

    The difficulty in individuals getting cover without employer involvement is a major failing. The difficulty (impossibility ?) in recovering costs in frivolous cases is criminal.

  4. Yes, I agree that making it 100% public is not a cost-cutting measure; it is just a cost-hiding measure. As with corporate bookkeeping, when everything is done within the same system, no one pays attention to actual costs.

    My point with regard to injury lawsuits is simply this: if the jury thought that the litigant was going to be given continuing care regardless of the outcome, they wouldn’t feel as sorry for her, as if they were obligated to act like populist avenging angels. Likewise, the lawyers would have no hook for charging fees as a percentage of the award. Unless the defendant was seen as acting maliciously, the amount of money involved should end up being relatively small, like $30,000 rather than $10,000,000.

    I think the existing litigation system in the US is corrupt, but it’s a reflection of the financial culture. I’ve known two people who received injury compensation in the last few years (one litigated and one not), and neither spent any of the money for medical costs. Sure, they are entitled to be irresponsible; the problem is, the assumptions underlying the compensation calculations were irrational. They were based on the idea that the responsible party had to evade all future medical liability by paying out some ridiculous amount to cover all possible medical costs.

    Since the injured parties were not rational with regard to spending the money, those medical costs will be externalized later on, through future charges to some private or public health insurance plan; essentially, the costs due to the incidents will end up being charged to the system twice, once in the form of payouts based on overblown, unrealistic projections of possible costs, and again in the form of actual health care service charges. Why not just charge the system once, when the health care is actually delivered?

Instigate some pointless rambling

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