Insurer ire with injury lawyers could harm claimants

Personal injury news roundup: 7 days ended 5 Nov 2013:

It’s no surprise that the insurance industry is at the throat of injury lawyers, but insurers’ reticence to pay their legal bills could affect the innocent.

Whiplash injury claims are expensive cases to bring right now. Luckily, claimants don’t have to worry about these costs since most lawyers operate on a conditional, no win no fee basis, which is integral for helping an injured person preserve their cash reserves if they’re unable to work, but insurers absolutely hate paying out on whiplash claims – and just this week if was revealed that legal fees and court costs per whiplash injury claim amounts to about £2,500 per case on average.

These fees are unbearable, so say the insurance industry, which lobbied heavily for legal reforms to be enacted a few years ago. Of course that new legislation has done absolutely nothing to curb costs – in fact the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries said that these costs have gone up by 15 per cent over the past three years. Will the new Legal Aid bill that was signed into law on 1 April of this year make more of a difference? Maybe, but the jury is still out on that one.

Now if you ask me, the focus is being placed in the wrong area when it comes to controlling costs. Yes insurers are paying out on these legal claims, but that’s their job – they collect a little bit of cash from everyone so they can pay out in the event of an accident occurring. You know if there was even half as much effort put forward to discourage spurious whiplash claims as the insurance industry spends in trying to rob personal injury solicitors from the legal fees they earn, maybe we wouldn’t have as much of a problem – and perhaps we can put an end to terrible legislation that does nothing but reduce access to justice for the legitimately injured.

Towards that end the Government is trying something new: this week it was made known that independent medical panels are going to be used soon to make determinations as to whether claimants are actually suffering from whiplash or not. Good luck on that – it’s not exactly easy to categorise right now. Maybe the Government uses smarter doctors than the rest of the country, but I doubt they’ll make any determinations different than your run of the mill GP.

Would saying sorry save the NHS millions?

It has been suggested that the NHS could save millions of pounds if it simply apologised for making mistakes.

NHS Trusts are being crippled by massive medical negligence compensation claims at a time when the government is cutting back on spending.

Last year, there were more than 8,500 clinical negligence claims filed against the NHS; up 30% on the previous year, according to the NHS Litigation Authority.

No win no fee lawyers charge more than normal solicitors do and they actually eat up around a third of the compensation bill. A lot of NHS Trusts are so concerned about legal costs that they accept liability and agree an out of court settlement.

Of course patients are entitled to compensation when something goes drastically wrong, but some personal injury solicitors actively encourage people to claim for even the tiniest problem.

One of the problems could be that the NHS is reluctant to admit that something has gone wrong. Patients sometimes feel angered at the treatment they have received, but this is not acknowledged by hospital staff. Even after they write and complain to the hospital executives they are fobbed off and this gets them even more frustrated. And so the situation plays on their mind until they feel they have no option but to turn to the courts.

Would they have resorted to such drastic measures if their concerns had been addressed at the outset? In many cases, the answer is probably no.

Yes, we have to address the compensation culture in the UK, but we should also look to changing the attitudes of those causing it.

APIL steps up fight for compensation for asbestos victims

Karl Tonks, the president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, has promised to step up the fight for compensation for victims of accidents and industrial disease.

46-year-old Tonks has only recently taken over as president of APIL but he is leading the campaign for insurers to set up a ‘last resort fund’ to help people suffering from the affects of asbestos exposure if their employer’s insurance company cannot be traced.

It can take several years before people who have been exposed to asbestos start to show symptoms and by then insurance records have been destroyed or lost. The ‘last resort fund’ would work on a similar basis to the current system that protects people who are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist.

Tonks explained that people who are entitled to personal injury at work compensation cannot claim it unless they can trace their past employer’s insurer. He says the insurance industry should be able to pay these claims through an employers’ liability insurance bureau. Insurers have already received the premiums and they should accept responsibility for the problem and rectify it.

He also had harsh words for insurers who prolong the personal injury claims process unnecessarily. Our current legal system means that claims drag on for far too long, adding additional costs, which are then passed on to customers through higher premiums.

The planned reforms to the no win no fee system are going to further erode the rights of injury victims and people will find it even harder to access justice, he added.

Will the legal aid really improve things for accident victims?

We keep hearing about a personal injury compensation culture in the UK and now the Ministry of Justice believes the new legal aid bill will rid the country of ambulance-chasing lawyers.

Last year, 790,000 people made a claim against their motor insurance. More than 1,500 a day of these were personal injury claims from people who said they had suffered whiplash. After a summit, David Cameron said he would slash the fees personal injury solicitors could command on small claims.

Legal aid was scrapped for personal injury claimants 12 years ago and in its place we got the no win no fee system that prevails today. The new legal aid proposals will do away with the recoverability principle of no win no fee. Furthermore, referral fees will be banned. These are the fees lawyers pay to the claims management companies that actively seek out accident victims and encourage them to claim compensation.

The government had hoped that the claims management companies would simply disappear into the ether, but that doesn’t look likely. Instead they will probably change to an alternative business structure and handle cases themselves through in-house lawyers.

It has been suggested that the British public are oblivious to their rights when it comes to health and safety. But are the health and safety rules sensible? A lot of accidents would be avoided if people just used a bit of common sense. Maybe the government should consider introducing a common sense bill instead of taking legal aid away from the most vulnerable members of British society.

Pay £1,000 compensation and receive legal bill for £17,000!

We’ve all heard stories about personal injury solicitors getting more money in fees than the person they represent receives in compensation, but this story really takes the biscuit.

Three years ago, a hairdresser was putting leaflets through letter-boxes when she was nipped on the finger by a dog. She got in touch with a no win no fee lawyer claiming she had suffered stress because of the incident. The solicitor contacted the owner of the dog and after lengthy negotiations the victim received £1,000 personal injury compensation.

You would have expected that to be the end of the matter, but then the dog’s owners received a bill from the hairdresser’s solicitor asking for £17,000! The husband has recently retired, his wife is aged 60 and they live in a modest £120,000 home. They could not afford to pay this bill and instead they sent their story to one of Britain’s national daily newspapers.

This did the trick to a certain extent and the £17,000 bill was reduced to £6,900. But that’s still a ridiculous amount to pay when you consider the compensation award was just £1,000 and the incident in question was a mere nip on the finger. And the couple still have to pay their own lawyer’s fee of £1,500.

Fat-cat lawyers are undoubtedly giving the entire legal profession a bad name and this practice of gross overcharging has to be stamped out as soon as humanly possible.

New no win no fee proposals minor step in right direction

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has welcomed the House of Lords’ decision to exempt industrial disease victims from the no win no fee proposals in the new Bill currently being debated in Parliament.

APIL’s chief executive, Deborah Evans, said this is good news for people who have suffered an industrial disease and it is vital that this important amendment is not overturned when the bill returns to the House of Commons for further debate.

However, it is devastating that other people who may want to make a personal injury claim are not being granted the same degree of consideration. These people may also have had their lives shattered by someone else and yet they are to be denied access to a no win no fee personal injury solicitor.

Many genuine claimants will be denied access to justice and even those who can afford to claim will have their personal injury compensation award reduced.

She went on to say that we a moral obligation to make sure vulnerable people get the protection they deserve but this new Bill is a step backwards.

David Cameron is determined to rid the UK of its compensation culture, but is denying people the right to access justice really the right way to go about it? The government needs to find a way to stop people making spurious claims, whilst ensuring the genuine claimants can still get the compensation they rightly deserve.

Secretary seeks injury compensation from personal injury solicitors

A Scottish secretary is claiming personal injury compensation from her employer, a firm of personal injury solicitors, after she fell down the office stairs and broke her wrist.

Quantum offer no win no fee services to people who suffered a personal injury at work. The 56-year-old secretary from Aberdeen had to undergo two operations to have plates fitted in her wrists in the aftermath of the accident that occurred in March 2007.

She has now lodged a personal injury claim for £13,500 at Edinburgh’s Court of Session. The woman says the staircase was steep and narrow and the banisters were inadequate. She told the court that she was in so much pain that she could hardly speak after the accident and a colleague who saw her shortly after the fall thought her neck was broken.

An inspector from the council visited the premises after the incident and discovered that one of the steps on the staircase was loose and required nailing down.

Speaking on behalf of Quantum, Gerry Hanretty QC said the victim’s high heeled shoe might have got trapped in the leg of her trousers causing her to fall but the victim denied that saying she would have been aware of that happening.

Medical negligence victims should not be denied justice!

Another firm of personal injury solicitors has spoken out against the government’s plans to withdraw the right to Legal Aid for victims of medical negligence.

Attwaters, a Harlow law firm, says vulnerable members of society will no longer be able to claim compensation because restrictions on success fees will deter medical negligence solicitors from taking no win no fee cases.

David Kerry, a partner in the firm as well as a clinical negligence specialist, said justice ministers should rethink the current proposals. A lot of firms believe that withdrawing Legal Aid will mean that a lot of people who have suffered at the hands of negligent medical professionals will be denied the justice they deserve.

The only option open to many of them will be to find a solicitor who will take their case on a no win no fee basis. However, the government also intends to put restrictions on success fees and some solicitors may be reluctant to take on complex cases.

This could have devastating results for families when a baby is born with permanent brain damage. They will be unable to get the financial support they need to take care of the child’s lifetime needs.

Rob Halfon, the Tory MP for Harlow, recently met with Mr Kerry to discuss the issue and promised to pressurize Jonathan Djanogly, the Justice Minister, into making concessions to the Legal Aid Bill.

Legal fees total six times personal injury compensation award!

Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, has slammed the system that allows personal injury solicitors to charge fees of £74,000 when the compensation awarded to their client was less than £13,000.

A plumber with a minor injury had visited a firm of no win no fee lawyers to help him claim personal injury compensation. The fees charged by the firm could reach as much as £250 per hour and these were to be doubled if the case was won! The case didn’t actually make it into court and the plumber was awarded £12,750.

The man in question worked for Bradford Jacuzzi UK and claimed he suffered a personal injury at work because his job assembling shower cubicles was so repetitive that he developed pain.

Lord Neuberger, along with two other Appeal Court judges criticised law firms for charging excessive fees. The government is currently trying to reduce the costs associated with the civil justice system and no win no fee lawyers are coming under particular scrutiny.

Lord Neuberger pointed out that this case was not particularly exceptional and he hopes that legislative changes will make sure that lawyers’ fees will become more proportionate.

A lot of people want to see the no win no fee system abolished completely. However, opponents say that will take away access to justice for the most vulnerable members of society. The Government’s proposals are still being debated in parliament but hopefully a solution will soon be agreed upon that will be acceptable to the majority of people.

Medical negligence claims increase by 30% in two years

NHS blunders are costing the UK taxpayer £15 billion in legal bills alone as a steep increase in no win no fee claims pushes costs up by 13%.

The NHS has put aside one seventh of its annual budget to pay personal injury compensation to victims of medical negligence. That’s money that should be going towards improving standards of patient care.

MPs have now said that a large proportion of the bill was caused by blunders during childbirth, which left babies with brain damage. Medical science has advanced and the victims of these blunders now live much longer, thereby increasing the cost of their long-term care.

However, a significant part of the increase is also blamed on personal injury solicitors encouraging patients to file no win no fee claims in the knowledge that they will not be liable for costs if their claim is unsuccessful. If the claimant wins, the NHS has to cover their legal fees as well. About 33% of the funds the NHS pays out in compensation is paid straight to lawyers.

Last year, the NHS received in excess of 8,500 claims for clinical negligence; an increase of 30% on the 2009/10 figure. Worryingly, the Treasury was unaware of this large increase.

Peter Walsh from the Action Against Medical Accidents commented that no win no fee lawyers are not helping the situation. If the Government goes ahead with its proposal to abolish legal aid for clinical negligence claimants the situation will only get worse.




Britain must lose title of whiplash capital of Europe

Britain is going to lose its dubious title of whiplash capital of Europe, and Justine Greening, the transport secretary says she is going to make it happen.

Last week Ms Greening said she was going to introduce tough new curbs on fake car accident personal injury claims involving snail pace speeds, as well as thorough medical checks. She also expressed her intention to target ambulance chasing personal injury solicitors who are raking in millions.

The Daily Mail recently revealed that there are 5,399 claims management companies in the UK. The Government has closed down 707 of them but the rest are still referring accident victims to no win no fee solicitors.

One solution being considered by the minister is a ban on whiplash claims if the accident happened at less than 6.25 mph. That law seems to work well in Germany. She is also considering calls for those deliberately causing an accident in order to claim personal injury compensation to be guilty of a criminal offence carrying a possible jail sentence.

We now have more than 1,500 claims per day for whiplash injuries in the UK and this is pushing up the cost of car insurance. And yet, the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads are decreasing yearly.

Claims management companies are currently bombarding Brits with text messages encouraging them to make a claim if they have been in an accident. They appear to select numbers randomly ‘just on the off case’ and this could encourage the less than honest to make a spurious claim.

I’m sure all drivers would like to see an end to this practice, if only to reduce their annual insurance premiums.

Medical negligence solicitors support retaining legal aid

A firm of medical negligence solicitors, based in Oxford, has expressed its support for the House of Lords peers who do not want the government to stop medical negligence claimants receiving legal aid.

Baroness Eaton, a Tory peer, explained that the most vulnerable members of society should be provided with a safety net.

Lord Thomas of Gresford, a Lib Dem peer, suggested that instead of abolishing legal aid, it should be dictated by the severity of an injury. He explained that people’s lives are sometimes altered forever because of the negligence of the medical profession and in those circumstances a humane society should cover the cost of pursuing the resultant medical negligence and personal injury claims.

Richard Money-Kyrle, a clinical negligence expert at Darbys Solicitors LLP, said that if the government removes the legal aid provision it’s as good as denying compensation to the least well off members of our society, particularly as the no win no fee system is also being dismantled.

He went on to say that the proposed changes to the no win no fee system will see claimants settling their legal fees out of their personal injury compensation, rather than the current system whereby the person at fault is responsible for the costs. The government’s proposals will leave a lot of people without access to justice, he added.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Advocate General and supporter of removing legal aid from medical negligence cases said he would seriously consider ministers’ concerns.