Rehabilitation doesn’t get written about much. But new guidance aims to help claimant lawyers and insurers.

Rehabilitation is one of those topics that personal injury lawyers always agree is important – but it doesn’t get written about much, because it doesn’t seem all that exciting.

But at this year’s Association of Personal Injury Lawyers conference, rehabilitation was a theme that kept on cropping up.

The keynote speech was delivered by Simon Weston, the Falklands veteran who suffered horrific burn injuries while serving in the Welsh Guards, whose moving story and reconstructed face has become familiar to many.

Weston gave a harrowing but inspirational speech, in which one of his key messages was: more rehab for injury victims. He wants to see a rehab unit at every hospital. Soldiers benefit hugely from rehab because they work so hard at it; and he believes civilians can do the same.

The conference also touched on two litigation-related developments taking place in relation to rehab. 

First, we have the re-birth of the Guide to the conduct of cases involving serious injury, which stems from the multi-track code piloted from 2008 to 2012. From when work first began, it has taken 11 years to get here, but APIL, the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and a number of insurers have worked together and a new code of conduct has now been agreed. Some big claimant PI firms are expected to be putting their signatures to it very shortly.

The essence of the code is that it will be good for claimants, because it will see insurers funding rehabilitation at a much earlier stage. In return, defendants will have one of their key gripes addressed – which is that they are not kept informed. Under the guide, they get more information – with early disclosure of documents, and regular updates.

The guide contains an important concession from insurers on offers to settle, with a commitment from defendants to negotiate before making Part 36 offers.

Probably the most controversial bit of the guide concerns the appointment of a joint case manager – something that insurers have always hankered after, but claimant representatives are extremely wary of. The guide doesn’t force claimant lawyers to accept a joint case manager, but it recognises that there might be times when one is appropriate.

Much of the guide’s provisions are already standard practice at the best PI firms, but the agreement is certainly a step forward, and shows a willingness to collaborate on both sides – which has to be a good thing for injury victims.

The second development on the cards is the publication of a long-overdue update to the 2007 voluntary Rehabilitation Code, currently being worked on by the International Underwriting Association and the Association of British Insurers. Clearly this overlaps with the serious injury guide, but some who have seen the current draft of the rehab code think it is too insurer focused, and doesn’t take things forward enough.

One reason why the new Rehabilitation Code has not yet seen the light of day may be concerns about the way the rehab market operates, particularly for lower-value claims.

Insurers are worried about connections between rehab providers and law firms, and the potential for providers to cash in by giving unnecessary treatment. Now that we have MedCo for the appointment of experts in whiplash, they would no doubt like to see a similar system in place for rehab providers.

Whatever problems may exist within the market, the fact remains that rehab is invaluable for injury victims – particularly the seriously injured.

Ultimately, early rehab can take pounds off the final compensation bill, but far more importantly, it gives injured people to best chance of getting back to the place they were before the negligence ever happened – which, after all, is what they really want.

Rachel Rothwell is editor of Litigation Funding magazine and a former Gazette news editor