The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has backed government plans to increase the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000. They claim that there should be a prescribed level of damage awards for whiplash, at a level set independently and furthermore any claimant whose whiplash claim is in part exaggerated or made up should automatically have their entire claim dismissed.
They are also calling for those who claim for a whiplash injury, to undergo a examinations by an accredited medical expert, news which has riled claimant lawyers who have claimed all along that insurance companies have been guilty of ignoring common sense by making offers to claimants pre-medical.
In response to the government’s consultation over reducing fraudulent claims of whiplash, the ABI are demanding that all medical examinations that are carried out by medical experts who can be proven to be financially independent for the claimant solicitors as well as them to be trained in the latest diagnosis techniques so that they will take into account the circumstances of the accident and not just the claimant’s reported symptoms.
Assistant Director of Motor and Liability for the ABI, James Dalton said: “We believe our proposals offer the best cure for the UK’s whiplash epidemic. Insurers want to make it simpler and quicker for genuine whiplash claimants to get fair compensation. But whiplash is notoriously difficult to diagnose, which means that for too many people it has become the fraud of choice.
“Our proposals will ensure better medical assessment of whiplash claims; offer a quick simple way of paying genuine claims; provide certainty for claimants and compensators; and deter fraud that ends up being paid for through higher motor insurance premiums.”
But the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) disputes these claims by the insurance industry in their response to the consultation claiming that the insurers were simply doing what was best for them. APIL President Karl Tonks said: “The real issue should be about getting the right level of compensation for genuinely injured people. We can all agree that there should be proper medical evidence in every case, but some insurers are still making offers of compensation without any medical evidence at all and this needs to stop.
“The vast majority of claimants have genuine injuries and these proposals will put off the genuine claimants and do nothing to stop the fraudsters.”
The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) took a different approach in reacting to the suggestions by the ABI. MASS chairman Craig Budsworth said: “While I am concerned about many aspects of the proposals put forward, I am pleased to see the ABI agreeing with MASS that every claimant should be assessed by an independent accredited medical expert. MASS, however, urges caution against introducing an overly complicated system of medical panels that could generate unnecessary red tape and expense in the system.”
He then went on to describe the disappointment with the ABI‘s conduct since the Jackson Review saying: “MASS is particularly disappointed in the ABI‘s u-turn following their response to the Jackson review in which they rightly said the small claims limit should not be increased until after the proposed reforms had bedded in. Jackson concluded that the small claims limit should not be increased at this time and MASS has consistently agreed with this.
“The ABI‘s sweeping statements about dismissing claims where there is any suspected exaggeration is disingenuous and frankly unhelpful. It demonstrates that insurers know very little about how lawyers work with their clients to put forward an honest case for the nature of living with a whiplash injury.”
Concern continues to grow for an industry that has already been left in a state of disarray since the cuts to fixed recoverable costs were announced and it is believed that should the small claims limit also be increased this will be the very final nail in many personal injury firms coffins and the end of access to justice for the genuine claimant as we know it.
1. Public Domain Pictures; George Hodan; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=164025&picture=doctor