Assaults and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

by Daniel Menell

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, or CICA, pay compensation to eligible applicants who have been the victim of a violent crime. Of course, the injured party could take civil proceedings for personal injury against the assailant for compensation, but often the identity of the assailant is not known, and those who can be identified often do not have sufficient means to make a civil claim worthwhile.

The scheme was introduced in the 1960ís, and originally, awards were in line with the level of compensation a victim would have recovered had a civil action for personal injury been possible. The Scheme was significantly diluted however in 1996, when a tariff system was introduced, and further amended in 2001. The maximum award is £250,000 for injuries, and a further £250,000 for loss of earnings and other expenses. At first glance, this sounds like an impressive limit. Indeed at the very upper end of severity, an award of £250,000 is likely for major paralysis, and this is in line with the sums one might recover in the civil courts. However, the tariff very often results in compensation very much lower than sums recovered in a civil claim for compensation, and that is especially so where there is more than one injury. By way of example, the CICA will pay 100% of the appropriate tariff for the most serious injury, but only 30% of the tariff for the next most serious injury, and 15% for the next. In an injury resulting in a serious arm fracture, concussion, and serious post traumatic stress, one could end up with tens of thousands less than someone with identical injuries caused in a road traffic accident. Loss of earnings claims are limited as well. No compensation is payable under the scheme for the first 28 weeks of loss. The vast majority of people will have returned to work within that time frame, but may still have lost a considerable sum during that period. Think of it as a 28 week excess if you like. But all this is assuming one can make a claim at all.

There are several ways in which the compensation claim could fail. A CICA claim must be made within 2 years, and the incident must have been reported to the police within 48 hours (unless impossible due to being unconscious for example), and have taken place within England Scotland or Wales. It is sometimes possible to pursue a claim even after these time limits, especially if there is good evidence that the assault did in fact occur, but ultimately you risk being at the CICAís mercy on this point so itís best not to delay.

The CICA can reduce or withhold an award in a number of other ways as well. Failure to co-operate with the police investigation, or persistently failing to assist the CICA by not filling in their forms, responding to their requests for information, or failing to attend medical examinations could all result in problems. The CICA will also take into account an applicantís own character by reference to any criminal convictions they have. A minor offence will lead to a percentage reduction in the award, and a more serious offence is likely to extinguish the award altogether.

The most frequent argument for a reduction of an award however, is the CICAís view of the conduct of the applicant at the time of the incident. If the CICA consider the applicant to have been in any way provocative of the situation, even if the severity of the attack was wholly out of proportion to that provocation, they are likely to reduce or refuse the claim. If an applicant might have had a potential way to avoid a confrontation, they will have been expected to do so. Often, the CICA might with the benefit of hindsight, suggest that the applicant could or should have acted differently. That however does not always take account of the fact that the applicant may have been caught by surprise and found themselves in a dangerous, uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation. If such arguments are raised, it is likely that you will need some legal advice as to whether such arguments are sustainable.

The CICA will not pay anything towards your legal fees, should you instruct someone to act for you. My advice to clients is often that they ought to pursue the claim themselves if they have suffered a relatively minor injury with no significant financial losses. For those who have suffered a more serious injury, and who might have a complex or significant claim for financial losses, it can be worth instructing a lawyer in such cases. Lawyers will have to act on a private client basis, but will often agree to limit their charges to a maximum percentage of any sum you recover.

Be aware also, that dealing with the CICA can be a somewhat challenging experience and a stern test of patience and persistence. Should you choose to deal with the matter yourself, you would be well advised to keep in regular contact with the CICA, constantly asking them what is going on, what evidence they are waiting for, what their action plan is and so forth. Failure to do so can lead to the claim being drawn out for literally years.

When the CICA do finally make their award, you should ask them to disclose to you any and all medical or other evidence supporting that award. You can then assess for yourself whether the injury award accurately reflects the CICAís banding for that "type" of injury.

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