Claims for whiplash injuries following Road Traffic Accidents have been controversial for a couple of years. Whilst the insurance industry has attacked personal injury claims in general they have pulled out all of the stops as far as whiplash cases go.
Following intense lobbying from insurers the government yesterday published its long awaited consultation paper. The Ministry of Justice says that the purpose of the process is to make it easier for insurers to challenge ‘fraudulent and exaggerated’ claims. This is a worrying statement. The Motor Accidents Solicitors Society (MASS) says that the Insurers themselves acknowledge that only 7% of all motor insurance claims are fraudulent –
So we have a proposal to dramatically change the system for pursuing motor claims generally. Those changes will make it hugely more difficult for the 93% i.e. the overwhelming majority, to pursue their cases. Fraudulent claims are a problem and they should be eliminated but this seems to attack all claimants; which is clearly disproportionate. It seems to be part of a deliberate plan to make all victims feel that they are the ones at fault and are fraudsters just because they have been injured through no fault of their own.
The consultation itself has two main proposals. The first is to increase the small claims limit for whiplash or, more likely, all RTA claims to £5,000. The effect of this is that no legal costs will be recoverable. So there will either be a big increase in litigants acting without legal advice, or people will be deterred from claiming. For most people £5000 is a lot of money and cases of that value can require expensive medical evidence. Although the ministry talks of preserving access to justice, the proposals will have the opposite effect.
The second, more controversial, suggestion is that there will be a panel of medical experts and only they will be permitted to prepare reports in whiplash cases. This is extremely dangerous and will inevitably lead to satellite litigation. Who will be eligible to be on the panel? Will an expert be removed if he is not sufficiently hostile to whiplash claims? Why should the evidence of one independent medical expert be safer than another? We already have a robust system for vetting medical evidence. If insurers are concerned they obtain their own evidence. The claimant’s expert can be questioned about his/her opinion.
In fact one of the biggest problems with the current system is that insurers try to settle claims directly with victims before they get to lawyers, and do so without any medical evidence at all!
The government needs to ask itself whether these proposals will protect the public and maintain justice or simply enable wealthy insurance companies to make bigger profits.We are told that these claims are the cause of high motor premiums. I have yet to meet a single person who expects that insurers will give them a rebate from any savings..