Andrew Cave says we should support the good guys in claims management and root out the bad
' A myth, according to my Oxford English dictionary, is a "traditional narrative involving supernatural or fancied persons and embodying popular ideas on natural and social phenomena". My Penguin dictionary says it can also mean a "fictitious person or thing". And then there are people who seem to think it means something else entirely.
Consider this summary of the Claims Standards Council's (CSC) report on personal injury compensation firms advertising their services in hospital accident and emergency units - a practice that surely brings a new meaning to the retail term 'footfall'.
"Possibly the greater danger lies in the fact that they have completely free access to distribute their literature in areas which currently have no effective control over their activity," it states. "If not controlled they are likely to perpetuate the style and tone of advertising which has already defined the sector and fuelled the compensation culture myth."
It is some understatement, particularly as earlier in the report we hear of at least one company that superimposed its own advertising and phone number on NHS literature, replacing the leaflets in hospital waiting rooms in an attempt to fool unsuspecting patients.
Other firms have bought old ambulances and festooned them with slogans plugging 'no-win, no-fee' claims advice firms. This is ambulance-chasing in an ambulance.
The CSC is a lobby group that is trying to protect the so-called good guys among the personal injury compensation firms by getting the government to weed out the bad ones. So it is saying sensible things about how regulation is needed to stop unscrupulous firms from targeting the vulnerable and uninformed.
Giving the false impression that such services are endorsed by the NHS is something that should clearly be stamped out. Inviting someone to make a claim in time for Christmas can be neither ethical or right. Nor can offering £350 cash up front to people who make a claim.
The CSC should be supported in its lobbying of the government to ban legal services from advertising in hospital waiting areas.
But this catchphrase about the compensation culture being a myth is nonsense. The phrase popped up in reports about last year's pronouncement on the problem by the government's Better Regulation Task Force. And it came up again when Lord Falconer, Lord Chancellor, pointed to falling numbers of personal injury claims in 2004.
Britain's compensation culture is, thankfully, far from the scale of the monster it has become in the US. But that doesn't mean there isn't one. It's not the mere perception of a compensation culture that creates the paralysing fear of litigation, making local authorities overly risk-averse and undermining genuine claims.
It has to be backed up by reality. Unfortun-ately, what is happening in Britain's courts shows that this is no longer something that is confined to the other side of the Atlantic. All sides of this issue should leave myths to the ancient Greeks and Romans and get on with trying to solve the problem. IT
' Andrew Cave is the former associate city editor of the Daily Telegraph