The government has opted out of an outright ban on insurers making pre-medical offers to settle.
A press statement published yesterday confirmed that the Ministry of Justice will introduce panels of experts from October to ensure that claimed whiplash injuries are thoroughly examined.
As the Gazette reported in May, medical professionals will be able to charge only £180 for an initial whiplash report, down from the current upper limit of £700.
At the same time, new court rules will allow defendants to give their account directly to the medical expert, and will stop experts who produce medical reports offering treatment to the injured claimant.
But on the issue of insurers settling whiplash claims without a medical report – a key grievance of the claimant industry – the government has said it will merely ‘discourage’ the practice.
In a letter to accompany the announcement, justice minister Lord Faulks (pictured) said the government still believed pre-medical offers should be prohibited, but finding a way of doing so through legislation was not possible.
‘This is a difficult issue and a new rule alone is not enough to address this particular problem,’ said Faulks. ‘The rules are being amended to strongly discourage this practice and the MoJ intends to continue to work with the industry on further ways to tackle this issue effectively.’
The refusal to create rules on pre-medical offers is a climb-down from last October, when justice secretary Chris Grayling said he wanted insurers to ‘end the practice of making offers to settle claims without requiring medical reports’.
Craig Budsworth, chair of the Motor Accidents Solicitors Society (MASS), said the government had ‘watered down’ its commitment to stopping the offers. MASS has previously called for a ban as it believes this will discourage people from making spurious or exaggerated claims.
Budsworth told the Gazette: ‘We are getting all these changes making it harder to claim but get nothing similar that impacts on insurers. The balance has shifted too far. Pre-medical offers will continue unless something is introduced in law.’
Government figures show that half a million whiplash claims are made each year, and insurers estimate they add an average £90 a year to each motor insurance policy.
Breakdown recovery specialist the AA says motor insurance premiums have dropped by an average of 19% over the past year following government reforms of the claims procedure.