Compensation claims for falls cost Stoke-on-Trent City Council £1 million
COMPENSATION claims for slips, trips and falls have cost a council almost £1 million in a year – with more cash pocketed by lawyers than the residents who were injured.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council settled 86 claims for injuries caused by its negligence in 2011/12 – forking out £363,173 in compensation.
But figures show 'no-win, no-fee' lawyers representing claimants pocketed £337,445, while the council spent £291,422 on its own legal bills and fees. In at least 31 cases the amount spent to cover claimants' legal fees was more than the compensation awarded by the court.
One claimant won £1,250 compensation – only for their lawyers to receive £20,630 for winning the case.
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The biggest individual settlement in the last financial year saw one claimant receive £45,000, while their lawyers received a further £19,250. Council leaders admit they take a "defensive" view on compensation claims, which could lead to more cases reaching court and running up costly legal bills.
Imminent Government changes designed to deter spurious claims and tackle 'compensation culture' will lead to strict caps on the amount lawyers can claim.
'No-win, no-fee' solicitors currently bill councils and other public bodies for a 'success fee' to cover their costs if a claim is won. But in future they will have to cover their costs by taking up to 25 per cent of the total amount paid out in compensation.
It is hoped the move will drive down council costs and reduce insurance bills, although critics say genuine claimants could miss out if legal firms pick and choose which cases they accept.
Melissa Turner, aged 35, of Fenton, said: "If people are being injured because of something the council has done wrong then they should get compensation and the council shouldn't take it to court because obviously that's where the money is going."
City council deputy leader, Councillor Paul Shotton, pictured below, who is also cabinet member for finance, said: "Over 70 per cent of claims are successfully defended without any costs being incurred by the council.
"Stoke-On-Trent City Council takes a defensive stance against all claims which we believe are unjustified and we work closely with our insurers to make sure our legal costs are minimised."
Legal firms argue that the 'no-win, no-fee' system provides access to justice for people who cannot afford it.
In the 2010/11 financial year, £4 million was paid in compensation to claimants by the region's three main councils, including £1.7 million from Stoke-on-Trent City Council.