If the government must do something to drive out the so-called compensation culture, it’s looking in the wrong place.
If I were a betting man, as well as an each-way flutter on Greg Rutherford to win Strictly, I’d put money on this month seeing the long-awaited consultation on personal injury lawsuits.
The Association of British Insurers has its motor conference on 18 October, featuring a speech from justice minister Sir Oliver Heald. The odds are short on an announcement on PI on, or just before, that date.
We know roughly what the Ministry of Justice will propose: the small claims limit rising to £5,000 and an end to damages for soft-tissue injuries.
From every angle these measures could be disastrous. Firms with a heavy reliance on personal injury will go to the wall.
Claimants will be left alone, either too intimidated to pursue their case or vulnerable to the grasp of claims management companies not always acting in their best interests.
Those acting alone will presumably have to work through a user-friendly version of the claims portal, and request a diagnosis that way. Who would trust insurers not to contact claimants directly and offer to take away such stresses with an early (under?) settlement?
Most importantly of all, the ending of damages for a proven injury opens a whole can of worms and turns established legal precedent on its head. So, we’re agreed the reforms are wrong, right? Excellent.
But the trouble is that insurers want their pound of flesh. And the public still want action on the ambulance-chasing, compensation culture club.
Here is my attempt to keep both parties happy: slash the three-year limitation period.
Now before claimant lawyers threaten to tear me limb from limb, hear me out.
The government has decided that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. It’s no good to simply oppose these reforms because that will not cut it.
I am on board with the argument about the small claims limit. Yes, it’s in PI lawyers’ interests to keep it to £1,000, but there is a wider public concern in keeping the status quo.
What this debate needs is collaboration, finding ways for the claimant and insurance sectors to live in harmony
Can you really say the same about the limitation period? Can you genuinely suggest that whiplash injuries do not materialise until more than a year has passed?
How many decent firms, those whose conduct is unblemished but who will lose out from these reforms, are starting whiplash cases after more than a year?
The cold calling that plagues the public seems, anecdotally, to coincide with the limitation period coming to an end – these are the type of operator the sector can do without.
What this debate needs is collaboration, finding ways for the claimant and insurance sectors to live in harmony.
Litigants in person, hands held by CMCs, will help neither side. But a shorter limitation period, in place of the proposed changes, will help to drive out bad practices, potentially reduce fraud and allow decent firms to continue fighting for justice for their clients.
Most of all, the cold calling would surely reduce as CMCs have less time to target accident victims. The compensation culture exists, but in perception only. Maybe if Joe Public isn’t harassed for three years after his accident, this perception may subside.
This consultation unquestionably places some law firms at risk. If it wants to survive the subsequent reforms, the sector will have to offer something to keep legislators and the public happy.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor