Two leading personal injury firms have raised serious concerns about the government's plans for a ‘cab rank’ system of allocating doctors to assess whiplash claims.
David Bott (pictured), founder of north-west firm Bott & Co and former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said the MedCo system has the potential to add costs and confusion and be impractical for victims.
He also warned that lawyers could be driven from the system altogether as the RTA portal used to file claims becomes more automated.
Meanwhile, national firm Thompsons Solicitors said justice secretary Chris Grayling had offered insurers an early Christmas present with his commitment to a random allocation of doctors to diagnose whiplash cases.
Earlier this month Grayling outlined plans for all whiplash cases to be assessed by accredited experts allocated on a cab rank basis.
From 6 April 2015, doctors must be registered with MedCo Registration Solutions in order to provide a report for a soft tissue injury claim. They will be accredited from 1 January 2016.
Bott said he agrees with the £180 fixed fee for medical assessment, introduced in October, and supports efforts to retain experts’ independence and ensure they are accredited.
But a cab rank system will remove any flexibility from the system and mean solicitors are working with medical reporting agencies they do not know or trust, he said.
‘Fundamentally the client (and their representing solicitor) will all of a sudden have almost no input into when their appointment takes place, who the doctor is that is preparing the reports or how long it will take to be produced. And in the meantime, how is my client’s data being stored and handled?
‘I have no idea as the medical agency or doctor allocated to me may be someone I have never come across or used before (perhaps deliberately).’
Bott also warned that the system could become dominated and controlled by insurers. The start-up costs of MedCo are already being met by the insurance industry.
‘I can envisage a fixed tariff (determined by the insurers). Data will then be inputted onto the portal, where you will simply get a yes/no decision and in effect the entire process will become automated.
‘The process will no longer require a solicitor, merely the client and insurance company, as the portal will be used for the third-party capture of information.’
Meanwhile, Thompsons head of policy Tom Jones has criticised plans to use claimants’ history to assess their case, with a legal requirement on claimant solicitors to make background checks on clients.
After 1 June 2015, when dealing with a claim notification form, claimants' legal representatives must undertake 'previous claims' checks on potential claimants and insert a unique reference number generated by that search.
‘The idea of insurers using a claimant’s history to decide whether or not their claim is fraudulent is astonishing and will do nothing to combat fraud,’ said Jones. ‘Simply because an individual has made a claim in the past does not mean that their claim is fraudulent.’