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Concern over immunity for 'good Samaritans'

27 September 2010

Solicitors have reacted with concern to leaked proposals from Lord Young’s report on health and safety, expected to be launched by prime minister David Cameron at the Conservative party conference next week.

According to The Daily Telegraph, members of the emergency services and ‘good Samaritan’ rescuers would be immune from personal injury actions, and schools would no longer be liable for injuries to children on trips or playing sport unless there has been “reckless disregard”.

Lord Young is also reported to have backed Lord Justice Jackson’s plans to end the recoverability of success fees, a move which could end the use of conditional fees.

Stuart Henderson, managing partner of Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office, said cases against the emergency services were relatively rare and courts scrutinised claims carefully.

“I don’t know any other area where there is immunity from being sued, apart from combat immunity, which only exists at common law,” Henderson said.

“I don’t think that there is any real evidence that emergency service workers or good Samaritans are not acting for fear of being sued.

“Interfering with the common law and introducing statutory immunity for certain people would be a retrograde step.”

Henderson said abolishing recoverability of success fees would simply shift liability from insurers to injured people.

“There is unlikely to be any real benefit for consumers, as I doubt if it would have any impact on insurance premiums.”

Des Collins, senior partner of Collins Solicitors, said that if rescuers, through no fault of their own, caused injuries to others, they would not be held liable anyway.

He said new legislation would be needed to give blanket immunity to particular professionals or members of the public.

“It all sounds wonderful, but it seems to me that this is being approached without any real appreciation of the issues which lie beneath it or the potential difficulties for lawyers.”

Collins said he was not surprised that Lord Young supported Jackson LJ on success fees, but he had “serious concerns” as to where things were going.

“I don’t think Lord Justice Jackson or Lord Young has thought this through,” he said. “There must be a way for serious cases to attract conditional fees.”

Tom Jones, head of policy at national firm Thompsons, said the devil was in the detail.“This will appeal to a Daily Mail readership and to the Tory party grassroots, but will the proposals ultimately be practical?”

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