A teachers union has reported that its members received in the region of £20 million in compensation last year. The payments were for injuries, criminal damage and pay-outs for disputes that led to them leaving their jobs.
Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the cause of such a level of compensation payouts – i.e. the shoddy working practices or unsafe equipment provided to teachers which resulted in the injuries – most commentators and news agencies focused on a few attention grabbing headlines where seemingly innocuous circumstances led to large payouts.
The Daily Mail’s online paper reported “£200k for slipping on a grape! Massive payouts awarded teachers injured in classroom accidents are revealed” The headline could have quite easily referred to this particular school’s failure to operate a simple cleaning regime resulting in a teacher being seriously injured, unable to return to work and that the tax payer having to stump up and entirely avoidable £200k as a result. However, the press appears to delight in fuelling the idea that injury claims are predominantly frivolous, dishonestly brought or that hard pressed local authorities are powerless against the mythical ‘Compensation Culture’ in which people are bringing unwarranted claims and retiring on the proceeds from the most trivial of accidents and injuries.
The truth is quite different. Even where an injured party can prove that the accident and subsequent injury was the result of the negligence another, the Court has guidelines by which the amount of compensation and individual will receive is determined. The damages that are awarded are made with the intention of putting the injured party back in the position they were before the accident (at least so far as a sum of money can do). The £200k that the injured teacher received will in part go towards his lost earnings, medical care and the cost of treatment and any adaptations necessary as a result of the injury received. It should not be viewed as a lottery win and few, if any, of the seriously injured clients for whom we work would regard their awards as such.
As the NASUWT general secretary, Chris Keates, said in her response to the figures, “Behind each of these cases is a person whose life has been changed through serious injury or unfair dismissal from their chosen career. What this figure illustrates is the cost to the public purse of employers’ poor or discriminatory employment practices and failure to pay due regard to health and safety in the workplace….Compensation is important but it is cold comfort if your health is irreparably damaged or your professional career has ended.”