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Steven Snowden QC – JC Guidelines for General Damages (14th edition)

The editorial team under the supervision of Mr Justice Langstaff – of which Steven Snowden QC is the most senior Barrister member – finished its work earlier this summer on the new edition of the Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases. The 14th edition is now published: it has just been made available electronically on Lawtel and print publication is imminent.

Apart from a general uprating for inflation and minor adjustment of some of the brackets and categories of injury to allow for reported decisions, key developments are:

  • A decision no longer to differentiate between awards for scarring by reference to gender, on the basis that it is indefensible as it adopts an outdated stereotype. The consequence has been a widening of the guideline bracket within which awards may fall, though it remains the case that the subjective reaction of the victim (whether male or female) to any scar and the extent, if any, to which scarring has affected them psychologically are of central importance. These will necessarily vary from individual to individual.
  • A reminder in Mr Justice Langstaff’s introduction that it is “a book of guidelines, not tramlines”, and that it will never be the case that it can cover every detail of every injury – leaving renewed scope for argument over the general damages figure in unusual cases.
  • A further reminder in the introduction that many of the decisions upon which the brackets are based were made many years ago in the light of then-current technologies and medicine. This may have influenced any assessment of the period during which the Court then making the award expected a victim would suffer, and the degree to which it then considered there would be pain, loss of function, or loss of amenity. The pace of technological and medical advance has, however, been quickening. On the one hand, the time during which a chronic or lifetime injury may have effect may be extended by increased life-spans; on the other, technological or medical advances may make injuries less painful, permit return of greater function, or allow for a quicker or more complete degree of recuperation than that which could have been predicted only a handful of years ago. There is room to argue that in an individual case such advances may call for an award which falls outside the range previously indicated by the Courts.
  • Finally a reminder that – despite the increasing practice in smaller claims – the simple factor of the length of time for which symptoms are suffered is not the critical factor in assessing the award for a minor injury. Focussing on time alone takes insufficient account of the other factors by which the quantum of awards for minor injuries falls to be assessed, and may obscure the fact in many cases that recovery may not occur at an even pace over time, but may frequently be much more marked in the very early days of recuperation. Intelligent application of the Guidelines, rather than too casual a focus on the length of time for which it is said the injury was suffered – perhaps in the light of a report saying that some minor symptoms are ongoing – is called for.

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