That noise you can hear is probably claimant lawyers parodying that Norwegian commentary.
‘Churchill dog, Alexander Armstrong, the meerkat, Rob Whitehouse, James Dalton, Iggy Pop, can you hear me? Iggy Pop, your boys took a hell of a beating.’ The Commons transport select committee report is out today and if you’re a claimant lawyer, it’s finally safe to come out from behind the sofa.
After years of what seemed like incessant propaganda and media-fuelled myths plaguing the whiplash debate, finally we have a reasoned and sensible account of this mysterious beast. In short, the report concludes that whiplash claimants should be required to produce more evidence of their injury - but it’s wrong to raise the small-claims limit so high as to remove claimant solicitors altogether.
To do so would be to leave them at the mercy of an insurance industry that has, according to the report, indulged in practices that encourage fraud and exaggeration.
There’s no doubt that the report makes for uncomfortable reading for the insurers.
Whiplash is not a myth but a debilitating injury, and one which cannot necessarily be picked up on a scan, despite what AXA might argue. The committee was rather naively ‘surprised’ that insurers will sometimes make an offer to PI claimants before a medical report has been received. Third-party capture, it concludes, damages the industry as a whole and encouraged fraud.
The report recommends that the government should take steps to protect motorists, although that seems unlikely given the committee itself was ‘surprised’ (that word again: do MPs live in a bubble or something?) that ministers seem to be listening only to the insurers’ perspective. The report, rightly, calls for the government to explain how it will monitor insurers’ commitment to translating savings from legal reforms into lower premiums.
Claimant solicitors can revel in some rare positive coverage but the response from the government to this report was so lukewarm it was verging on tepid.
Ministers were ‘grateful for the committee’s work on this issue and will consider their views as we decide on our next steps’. With a response to the consultation on the small-claims court limit not due for months, the Ministry of Justice knows memories of this report will fade. Even its release today is to some extent overshadowed by the advent of fixed fees for EL and PL work and the government’s promises to have us playing conkers and shifting asbestos in no time.
You only have to look at the Fenn review into the RTA Portal commissioned by the government last year, to see how obstinate they can be when their minds are made up. My guess is this will do little to change their proposals.
That Norwegian commentator has rightly gone down in folklore for surely the greatest piece of football commentary ever produced. He was describing a victory for Norway against England in a World Cup qualifier, but what is often forgotten is England went on to qualify for the World Cup anyway, with Norway finishing bottom of the group.
Sometimes it’s best not to over-celebrate a victory – and the claimant sector will do well to remember that.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter
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