Many people will be aware that Lord Young has been appointed by the government to have a look at the rules surrounding health and safety, and more importantly, personal injury compensation.
It is undeniable that there are some firms and some lawyers in the country who do resort to unscrupulous methods to try and get people to claim compensation. It is also true that there are some members of the public who like to think of themselves as injury victims whenever their accident is entirely their own fault or whenever they are not seriously injured.
But we must not lose sight of the reasons why compensation laws exist: they are in place to protect people whose lives are changed to varying degrees by the actions of others.
A man whose toe is broken at work and a girl who sustains irrevocable brain damage are the same in principle: if they are injured by somebody else's negligence and they suffer some sort of physical, psychological or financial detriment (or all three) then it is pretty difficult to argue that they should not be entitled to some sort of payback for what they have endured.
Of course, the more serious the injury, the greater the amount of compensation. Compensation, generally speaking, exists to perform two functions: it acts as a form of remuneration for any pecuniary losses incurred by the victim i.e. a taxi driver who is off work for a month with a broken arm will wish to claim back the money that he should have earned if he was fully fit.
Compensation also usually contains a punitive element: this means that an award paid by the defendant (or their insurers) is a way of them apologising to their victim for the suffering they have caused them, and also acts as a punishment/deterrent so it becomes less likely that they will commit the same offence the next time.
To refer to my two examples: the man who breaks his toe at work will generally win an award in the region of about GBP2000-GBP3000, although it may be more depending on the circumstances.
The girl who suffers the brain damage, however, is likely to be awarded an amount that may total many millions of pounds.
An article in the Mirror this morning reports on a case which is rumoured to have attracted the largest personal injury compensation settlement ever paid to an individual in the UK.
This record has been broken twice in the past three months. In July, Wasim Mohammed, a man from the West Midlands, was awarded GBP11.1 million after he was rendered tetraplegic in a 2006 car crash. Then only last month, former Commonwealth Games cyclist Manny Helmott was awarded GBP13.7 million after he was knocked off his bike and left severely brain damaged.
Now it is reported that Chrissie Johnson, a schoolgirl involved in a high speed car accident when she was a 16 year old schoolgirl, has been awarded GBP17.5 million or thereabouts. This, as with many large settlements, will take the form of a lump payment as well as monthly payments for the rest of her life.
Ms Johnson, now aged 20, was in intensive care for ten days and needed a tracheotomy. She has spent the last four years in various residential homes and was completely paralysed, as well unable to communicate fully. She is still undergoing intensive therapy to help her regain some degree of her old abilities.
She will need to buy a specially adapted home to cater for her complex needs and to accommodate her carers.
Although compensation can never return the life that the victim has lost, it is in cases such as this that it becomes hard to argue that it does serve a very worthy purpose indeed.