LAWYERS’ GROUPS have seized on another report to back their claims that tort law reforms need to be reversed.
The Law Council of Australia said the Productivity Commission’s Review of Government Services report, released last week, had provided evidence of a sharp drop in District Court civil filings of personal injury matters.
“Tort law changes were an excessive reaction by governments. This report shows that the laws have prevented over 40 per cent of claimants from pursuing their common law rights,” said Law Council president John North.
The report shows that civil lodgements in the district and county courts of Victoria and NSW, where reforms have been introduced, together dropped by 45 per cent between 2001-02 and 2004-05.
In NSW, civil lodgements in those courts stood at 20,875 in 2001-02. They dropped to just 9,214 in 2002-03 and have declined further since then to 7,202 in the last financial year.
Victoria introduced reforms later through the Wrongs and Limitation of Actions Act 2003 and lodgements in the Victorian County Courts subsequently dropped by 37 per cent from 8,811 in 2003-04 to 5,488 in 2004-05.
North said the report did not show the “human cost” of the tort law changes. “Every year the number of people struggling to cope with injury, without compensation, continues to rise. Meanwhile, insurance companies are wallowing in profits made at the expense of those who can least afford it.”
At the end of last year, a NSW parliamentary committee report stated it could not find any evidence of profiteering by the insurance industry.
“Given the range of factors that have contributed to the current profitability of the insurance industry, the Committee does not believe that the industry has been systematically profiteering as a result of the government’s reforms to personal injury compensation law in NSW,” it states.
However, the committee recommended several changes to various civil liability acts that would improve the chances of claimants having their cases heard and receiving damages.
These included a proposal to discontinue the use of the medical assessment guidelines under the NSW Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999, the Workers Compensation Act 1987, the Workplace Injury Management Act and Workers Compensation Act 1998.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance said other recommendations that should be implemented included the extension of the 15 per cent “most extreme case” threshold for non-economic loss damages in the Civil Liability Act 2002 to the Workers Compensation Act and the Motor Accidents Compensation Act.