Belfast Telegraph

Why seemingly ridiculous claims will be paid rather than go to court

By Alan Murray

As with bogus whiplash injury claims, often the advice offered by lawyers to prison governors and police superintendents when plausible but questionable personal injury claims from prisoners arise is to ‘settle for a few quid’ and save thousands on lawyers’ fees.

With the cost of a brief appearance at the High Court costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds, plausible but not necessarily justifiable personal injury claims sometimes generate an inclination to settle ‘in-house’ to avoid hefty legal bills.

Way back in 2001 the cost of settling claims for personal injuries allegedly sustained by inmates on the half-mile coach journey from the Maghaberry visitors’ pick up point to the visitors’ prison reception centre was around £7,500.

The following year the compensation bill for head injuries allegedly sustained on the short bus journey ballooned, like the bumps, to a six-figure sum. When CCTV was installed on the bus, so the story goes, head bumps on the bus miraculously ceased.

Prisoners have sought financial compensation for catching their fingers in cell doors, for burning their fingers while testing the temperature of their soup, and many have claimed compensation for injuries sustained in the gym and on the football pitch — ‘compensation’ inducing concussion injuries sustained in the heading of a football are not unknown at Maghaberry Prison.

One figure bandied about the jail is that 64% of inmates serving jail terms of four years or more have an ‘accident’ during the last 12 months of their sentence.

Compensation in such cases by way of out of court settlements resulted in awards ranging between £1,500 and £16,000 it is reported — nice dosh if you can get it. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Sunburn-related injuries and dehydration caused to prisoners during summer rooftop protests are not uncommon reasons for launching legal actions and in some instances the courts have actually found in favour of those unlawfully engaged in such activities.

The Prison Service has a duty of care to prisoners but if the rest of us climbed onto a roof after being told not to, we probably wouldn’t get one penny in compensation if we fell.

The Payouts: Cases settled in the past three years

Compensation paid to prison officers from 2009/10 to 2011/12

Total number of claims: 147

Total amount paid: £1,187,398

Breakdown of claims

  • Medical/psychiatric - Number of claims: 4 - Amount paid: £58,500
  • Violence and injury |against persons - Number of claims: 62 - Amount paid: £443,402
  • Physical environment (includes slips, trips and smoke inhalation) - Number of claims: 78 - Amount paid: £682,038
  • Employment-related - Number of claims: 3 - Amount paid: £3,458

Compensation paid to prisoners from 2009/10 to 2011/12

Total number of claims: 84

Total amount paid: £332,533

Breakdown of claims

  • Medical, psychiatric and death in custody - Number of claims: 10 - Amount paid: £147,250
  • Violence and injury against persons - Number of claims: 11 - Amount paid: £52,096
  • Physical environment (includes slips, trips and smoke inhalation) - Number of claims: 50 - Amount paid: £115,054
  • Unlawful imprisonment - Number of claims: 13 - Amount paid: £18,133

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