In September 2017, the 14th Edition of the Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases were published. This new addition has been updated to take into account inflation since the 13thEdition (which was published September 2015). The award across all categories has been increased in line with the Retail Price Index. For the 2-year period, from June 2015 to May 2017, the increase has been 4.8%. The guidelines also reflect decisions of the higher courts on quantum. Whilst this may come as good news for Claimants, it may cause some concern for Defendants. It will increase a Defendants’ risk of costs where the Claimants’ Part 36 offer was calculated on the basis of the 13th Edition.
The introduction to the JCG also provides some words of caution on how to assess damages. There has been an over-emphasis on the duration of the injury with little regard being paid to the other factors of assessment. This is particularly so in low value minor injury claims. By way of an example: the introductory remarks in Chapter 7 Orthopedic Injuries (A) Neck Injuries (c) minor clearly sets out that: “while the duration of symptoms will always be important, the level of award will also be influenced by factors such as: severity of the injury; the intensity and consistency; the presence of additional symptoms; the impact of the symptoms on the injured person’s ability to function in everyday life and engage in social/recreational activities; the impact of the injuries on the injured person’s ability to work; the extent of any treatment and the need for medication.” Despite these remarks I have witnessed a relatively straightforward neck whiplash injury, with duration of 12 months, but no other factors relevant to assessment being valued at £3,800 (under the 13th Edition).
Helpfully, it is reiterated in the introduction to the new Guidelines that the duration of symptom alone, should not be over-emphasised in determining damages for relatively minor injuries. The Introduction states that an emphasis on duration of symptoms alone, “takes insufficient account of the other factors by which quantum of awards for minor injuries falls to be assessed”. The author reminds, “practitioners should remember that this is a book of guidelines, not tramlines”. It is with this in mind that when assessing quantum for minor injuries practitioners should take care to review all relevant factors. An intelligent application of the guidelines should be adopted and not simply a rigid approach focusing solely on duration.
Finally, it is the intention of the Government to compensate whiplash injuries on a distinct legislative basis. However, this has currently not been implemented and therefore does not feature in the new Guidelines. There is however mention that within the currency of this edition there may be further subsequent changes. Practitioners should keep alert to the possible changes.