More Riverina residents will now be able to issue personal injury claims to their local District Court, reducing the time and costs involved in taking their case to Sydney’s Supreme Court.
Injured people will have an opportunity to achieve justice closer to home following legislation changes in NSW Parliament which, after 25 years, has increased the limit of damages the District Court can award from $750,000 to $1.25 million.
RMB Compensation Lawyer Anne Barlow says the change has been a long time coming, and is an important step forward for anyone in the Riverina seeking personal injury compensation.
“This is fantastic and means that people can bring proceedings to the District Court in their local area which will have the matter heard more quickly and keep their costs down,” Ms Barlow said.
“It’s so hard for people living in regional areas like Wagga and Parkes to have to travel to Sydney. Not only does it mean huge travel and accommodation expenses, the work involved in going to the Supreme Court increases their legal fees.
“There’s also a significant delay, with a backlog of 12-18 months before claims can be listed in the Supreme Court, whereas the matter can usually be heard in the District Court within a month or two.”
Ms Barlow said the longer a case dragged on, the more stressful it could become for the plaintiff, especially if they were injured and had to travel and stay away from home.
She said the changes had come at a time when more cases were being referred to the Supreme Court as the cost of living increased.
“I was finding more and more cases would commence in the District Court and it would soon become apparent that the injured person would have to go to the expense of transferring to Supreme Court because their claims were going to exceed the maximum $750,000 limit.
“Over the past 25 years since the limit was set, earnings have increased, surgery costs have increased and the cost of living in general has increased, so it wasn’t sufficient.”
While $750,000 may sound like a lot of money, in some circumstances it is not so much when considering a person may have the right to compensation for lost income, non-economic loss (pain and suffering), medical costs and the costs of personal care. Ms Barlow said costs could add up quickly, particularly if the injured person was young and facing many years impacted by their injury.
Someone injured in a public place or seeking compensation for medical or professional negligence can be off work for a long period of time and their injury, whether physical or psychological, may also result in the loss of capacity to earn into the future.
Ms Barlow said average earnings were much lower 25 years ago, when the $750,000 cap was set, and medical costs had also increased significantly, with some procedures costing up to $30,000.
“This change will have a huge impact, particularly for clients that have a psychological injury and are already having a tough time with the stress involved in litigation,” she said.
“Previously we have really had to weigh up whether it was in a client’s best interest to increase their claim and transfer to the Supreme Court.
“If people with mental health issues can’t access the justice system in their local area, they are really missing out and it’s not fair.”
In the past 18 months, Ms Barlow has transferred five Riverina cases from the District to Supreme Court that she said would not have been necessary had the claim cap been increased to $1.25 million sooner.
She currently has another four that are set to be transferred to Sydney because the cases commenced before the changes came into effect.
“But, going forward it means that most claims will stay local, unless they are catastrophic injuries – which is great news,” Ms Barlow added.
The legislation passed the NSW Legislative Assembly on 9 November 2022 and has now become law in NSW.
RMB Lawyers, working together with Bower Wood Lawyers in Wagga Wagga, the Riverina and Snowy Valleys, specialises in compensation and personal injury law, with accredited specialist compensation lawyers and staff who can make sure you receive the compensation you are entitled to.