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Thursday, 12 November 2015

MedCo and Deafness Claims - blessing in disguise?

I have ranted on numerous occasions here about the influence that the insurance industry has on the government. This regularly came up during the so called reforms of 2013 that devastated the rights of victims of accidents –

In particular I referred to a ‘summit meeting’ which had taken place to which those representing victims had not been invited. Over the following two years, insurers seem to have become more and more confident that this government will do whatever they ask.

This is highlighted by a report in yesterday’s Litigation Futures concerning plans to extend MedCo. The report quotes the Deputy Director for Civil Justice at the MOJ as saying that the insurance industry is very concerned about Noise Induced Hearing Loss claims. He seems to say it as if that is now the starting point for further ‘reform’. Of course insurers are concerned. Claims cost them money. Of course they want to reduce the number of claims. They want to save money. But what has this got to do with the MOJ? Is there now only one side of any argument?

It seems to be taken as read that victims are a ‘problem’ and have to be brought under control.

But what about the actual proposal?

For those who don’t know – MedCo is the system whereby victims of soft tissue injuries in motor accidents are assessed by a medical expert selected by the claimant’s representative from an approved list. So the idea would be to introduce a similar system for the assessment of whether a worker’s hearing loss is caused by noise. Far be it from me to support such a thought. But I wonder whether it is such a bad idea.

It is well known that there are some medical experts who are very popular with insurance companies in hearing loss cases. This is because they are instinctively hostile to the very idea that noise at work can damage hearing, and if it does any damage it must be minimal. So if we have a panel from which I can select an expert, then presumably I can decline to select such experts – even if they find their way onto the approved list. So in the longer term we could see the end to disproportionate arguments on causation, which experience tells me are the source of the vast majority of the cost incurred on noise induced hearing loss cases.

Or am I being naïve? What if the list is entirely made up of experts who will routinely exclude noise at work as a cause of the hearing loss? I can certainly see some interesting judicial review actions if that were the case.

I predict interesting times ahead. It is clear that the insurance industry sees victims of hearing loss as its next target, and that a compliant government will do what it can to assist.

But it might also be the case that they will need to be careful what they wish for.

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