The Social Cost of Litigation

New research highlights damaging financial and social cost of ‘litigation culture’ on health and education.

New research by Professor Frank Furedi highlights the high financial and social cost of today’s ‘culture of litigation’ on health and education services.

The Social Cost of Litigation, by Professor Furedi and Jennie Bristow of the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, the authors show that far from increasing safety and accountability, the culture of litigation has resulted in significant costs to the quality of services, the experience of those who use them, and the role of professionals.

Professor Furedi commented:

Demanding recompense for accidents is now perceived, not only as a common-sense way of gaining financial compensation, but as a way of holding public services to account.

‘But taken together, the combination of an engrained compensation culture and litigation avoidance is bleeding the health and education services dry: both financially, and in terms of their public sector ethos and professional role.’

The research shows that as of March 2011, the NHS Litigation Authority estimated its potential liabilities at £16.8 billion, of which £16.6 billion related to clinical negligence claims.

However, of the 63,800 claims for medical negligence made since 2001, only about 2,000 (3.2%) have had damages approved or set by the Court. A further 28,700 were settled out of court.

Professor Furedi said:

‘The increasing fear of litigation is also extremely damaging to the professionalism of doctors, nurses and teachers: it erodes professional autonomy, stifles innovation, leads to defensive practices in both hospitals and schools and encourages greater bureaucracy. ‘Best practice’ is now defined as having checked all the boxes in a quality assurance form rather than doing what is best of the patient or pupil.

‘If we want to put a brake on the culture of litigation and litigation avoidance in Britain, we need to look beyond ambulance-chasers and greedy lawyers to the cultural conditions that have allowed litigious sentiments to flourish as common sense. In particular, we need to challenge the expectation that professional ‘best practice’ in the public sector should be measured by the absence of complaints or litigation.’

Tim Knox, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, commented:

‘This rise in the compensation culture has huge – if largely hidden – costs. In particular, it has created a climate in which professionals will prioritise litigation avoidance above what is best for their pupils or patients. So many schools have reduced the extra-curricular activities that enrich children’s experience while at school, from school trips to outdoor play, while doctors are incentivised to follow ‘best practice’ rather than follow their professional judgement. It is time for policy makers to separate compensation in the public sector from tort law. They also need to consider how a scheme of no-fault liability can be devised to deal with those who have suffered harm.’

Media Impact:

The Daily TelegraphFrank Furedi – The compensation culture is poisoning our society

The Sunday Times: Our rush to sue hurts patients and pupils

The Daily TelegraphLitigation culture draining billions from hospitals and schools

The Sunday Mail, lead page 2 articleToday, children, we’re going on a trip…to the playground: Claim culture means teachers are scared to leave the premises

Spiked: The immorality of compensation culture

Sky NewsCompensation Culture ‘Bleeding Dry’ Services

The Independent‘Litigation culture’ is making Britain less safe, says report

Daily ExpressCrackdown on elf ’n safety law to curb payouts

Telegraph EducationCompensation culture ‘putting curbs on school trips’

Press AssociationWarning over compensation culture

MSN UK: Warning over compensation culture

This is MoneyToday, children, we’re going on a trip…to the playground: Claim culture means teachers are scared to leave the premises

Legal Brief Today‘Litigious climate’ harms public services, says think tank

Orange NewsCompensation Culture ‘Bleeding Dry’ Services


Tim Knox featured as the lead interview on BBC West Midlands and the paper was also discussed on BBC Kent and BBC Tees. In addition the Press Association article was picked up by over 50 local newspapers.

Frank Furedi, Jennie Bristow - Monday, 10th September, 2012