The controversy about the proposed changes to the scope of the electronic portal for low value personal injury claims in road traffic accidents continues. The latest development follows the clear advice from Nottingham University’s Professor Paul Fenn in his eagerly anticipated report, when he made clear his belief that any proposed extension to the current portal scheme should only take effect following a complete assessment of the whole small claims process next year. Interestingly, he also added that the government’s current proposals to roll out the portal not only to road traffic accidents but also to employers liability and public liability cases, would have only a very limited effect on claims – on the basis that the vast majority of these sort of liability claims remain contested.
Professor Fenn’s report also noted that the much vaunted RTA protocol had, since its launch in 2010, in fact, reduced the average level of compensation awarded by 6%.
In the report, the professor recommended in particular that the whole RTA portal scheme should be jointly reviewed in 12 months, by which time there will be more data on the portal and its accompanying used of highly restricted fixed costs.
Responding to the report, the government showed no signs whatsoever of following the report’s recommendations or delaying the implantation of its plans to extend the scheme in anyway – in fact, the MoJ commented only that Professor Fenn’s report provided “important groundwork” to its plans to significantly expand the whole scope of the electronic portal fixed costs scheme.
Statistics just released by the Institute of Actuaries indicate that the number of UK road traffic accidents which involved some form of personal injury increased last year by a full 18% – and that in contrast, the actual number of compensation claims made dipped by 11%.
These figures prompted a strong response by the Motor Accidents Solicitors Society [ MASS] which claims that the an important factor in the rise was the heightened level of activity by claims management companies [CMCs]. Rounding on the behaviour of some rogue claims companies, MASS chair Donna Scully pointed out that although the Information Commissioner received around 25,000 complaints from the public about unsolicited text and cold calling from certain claims companies over a 12 month period, not a single prosecution was issued as a result. She also supported the suggestion by the Association of British Insurers for a compulsory medical examination of the claimant before any compensation is awarded.
Despite the referral fee ban and crackdown on no win no fee personal injury litigation expected next April, there are, as yet, no plans from the government to clamp down further on rogue claims management companies nor to introduce compulsory medical examinations.
More than one commentator has observed that despite record profits for various insurance companies including LV and Aviva, there is no suggestion that there will be any reduction in insurance premiums. Calls from some quarters of the industry for a complete ban on unsolicited text messaging, cold calls and television advertising for personal injury cases appear to have been ignored by the government.
Have you suffered a UK Road Accident Injury? Call FREEPHONE FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for FREE compensation claim advice from our specialist Road Accident Injury Claim Solicitors.
The reality of one aspect of the government’s proposed civil litigation reforms has now become clear. The head of civil litigation funding at the Ministry of Justice, Robert Wright, has owned up to the fact the government is not going to be able to ensure that the planned 10% uplift in accident claim damages levels is indeed applied. This uplift is a critical part of the government’s reforms and is supposed to help compensate those making accident claims with the cost of any solicitor succcess fee or “after the event” [ATE] insurance premium, both of which will no longer be recoverable by a successful injury claimant following the planned changes.
The MoJ have admitted that they will be relying on the courts to make sure this 10% increase is carried through – and for personal injury solicitors to make sure that happens in cases settled prior to the final hearing. I don’t consider myself a cynical person, but this just sounds like caving into insurance companies. Contrary to popular belief, one of the main problems with escalating legal costs in accident compensation claim cases, is the unreasonable approach taken by many insurance companies – who regularly fight claims to the bitter end regardless of the apparent merits of the claim. The government is apparently trusting these self same insurance companies to do the decent thing and to voluntarily agree to pay an additional 10% in the level of damages – which, in the absence of standard compensation levels, is itself an incredibly vague concept.
The winners – the insurance companies.
The losers – all victims of no-fault accidents who deserve compensation, not to say the concept of justice itself.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke this week resumed his crusade against “the compensation culture”, laying into personal injury solicitors yet again. Is it my imagination or whenever governments are doing badly, do they seem to look desperately around for easy targets to attack in order distract the public from the governments own failings. So-called ”fat cat” lawyers are often first in the firing line.
According to the government, the number of whiplash injury claims has risen by 70% in just six years and around £2 billion every year is paid out in accident compensation – with GPs apparently claiming that around 25% of the 600,000 compensation claims made every year are either “fake or overdiagnosed”. This is apparently the fault of no-win no fee lawyers. Firstly, if these cases are overdiagnosed, why is it the lawyers fault – they’re not performing the diagnosis – that’s down to GPs and it is the medical profession alone, which is surely responsible for proper diagnosis. But unfortunately attacking doctors is never politically popular – whereas the lawyer, and the accident claim lawyer in particular, is always a popular whipping boy.
The latest news followed earlier claims by the House of Commons Transport Committee, that the insurance industry or did that they’d felt forced to add around £90 to the price of every insurance policy to pay for these fake claims.
Our view? The government is to be applauded if it does in fact successfully set up an independent panel of medical experts to investigate dubious injury claims. But how about making sure that GPs are properly trained and do properly challenge anyone who they suspect of making a false claim. Without medical evidence no sane personal injury solicitor is ever going to run a case – no win no fee or not.
And finally, if the number of whiplash claims is indeed slashed, are we all really confident that the highly profitable insurance industry is going to generously cut down all our premiums ? Apparently the average premium has doubled since 2008 – that can’t just be down to whiplash claims. Will properly diagnosing fake whiplash claims result in a drop of the insurance premiums we all pay, or will any saving somehow be swallowed up in a rise in insurance industry profits. Only time will tell.
Earlier this week, the government finally gave way to pressure with regard to its planned reforms to no win no fee claims for mesothelioma victims. As a result, the planned changes to the recoverability of success fees in no win no fee cases, will be delayed, pending a review into the impact these changes will have on the access justice of those suffering from mesothelioma.
This change of heart appears to be the result of arguments that those suffering from mesothelioma (an industrial disease arising out of exposure to asbestos at work) would not be in a position to bring what referred to as ‘frivolous or fraudulent’ compensation claims, that it was not reasonable for those victims with just months to live to spend time shopping around for the solicitor with the lowest success fee, and therefore it was not reasonable for them to be put in the position of potentially losing up to a quarter of any damages one in order to fund their personal injury solicitors‘ success fee under a no win no fee claim.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, as amended, is now expected to receive Royal assent in the next few weeks and to become law next April.
Proof that even before the proposed reforms to payments to lawyers for accident claims come into effect, there are problems with making the work pay, comes with news that Manchester accident compensation law firm, Donns, have just gone into administration. Approximately 50 employees are believed to have been the subject of redundancy.
The special personal injury solicitors practice has been taken over by well-regarded national injury compensation claim firm, Irwin Mitchell.
Donns was originally set up in Manchester back in 1969 and ran injury claims under conditional fee or so-called “no win no fee” agreements.
The saga concerning the government’s plans to alter the availability of conditional fee agreements [more commonly known as “no win no fee“] drags on. In particular, the House of Lords have now given the government a series of bloody noses – the three latest defeats of government proposals means that the government has actually lost nine votes so far. With regard to personal injury work, the critical change was that, unless this latest defeat should be overturned in House of Commons, those suffering from mesothelioma, and respiratory or other industrial disease, which has resulted from their employers’ negligence, will be excluded from the planned reforms to the no win no fee claim system.
That’s the question that is currently being asked by Peter Smith – a senior member of the Civil Justice Council. Speaking at the Bar Conference, Mr Smith [who is also the managing director of First Assist Legal Expenses Insurance] predicted that the forthcoming proposed removal of medical negligence claims from legal aid [or public funding as it is now properly known] along with the proposed changes in regulations proposed by the so-called Jackson reforms, could reduce the number of medical negligence compensation claims annually – from 6000 to just 3000. In particular he predicted that 2000 claimants would no longer have funding to make compensation claims for medical negligence due to the removal of legal aid, and that a further 1000 claims would probably be lost as a direct result of planned changes to conditional fee [or no win no fee ] arrangements and after the event insurance.
Mr Smith also predicted that so-called “before the event “[BTE] insurance premiums were likely to rise by “seven or eight fold”, partly due to the planned ban on personal injury referral fees. He concluded that he could see no insurance mechanism allowing those with” decent claims to bring them” adding that the proposed Jackson reforms and removal of legal aid for medical negligence would have a “dreadful [and] chilling effect”.
If you think you have been a victim of medical negligence, contact our specialist medical negligence solicitors today on FREEPHONE FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 for a free first interview.