Coronavirus-inspired cooperation between claimant lawyers and insurers will continue for at least another month, as hundreds more firms commit to an unprecedented truce.
The personal injury protocol drawn up between Thompsons Solicitors and the Association of British Insurers was due to expire this week, but has now been extended until at least 20 May.
A total of 279 law firms and 38 insurance companies have committed to the terms of the protocol, which was set up in the immediate aftermath of the current lockdown.
Parties signing up agree that all limitation dates in all PI cases are frozen and claimants undertake to respond ‘constructively’ to defendant requests for extensions of time to serve a defence.
An escalation process is in place for those not adhering to these principles, whereby senior figures in signatory firms can be contacted and asked to decide whether their firm’s stance should be adjusted.
With lawyers having to work from home, there has been concern about parties opportunistically taking advantage of practical difficulties experienced by the opposing side.
Tom Jones, Thompsons’ head of policy, said: ‘What we’ve shown is that we – and many others both in law and insurance – are prepared to work collaboratively for the greater good, setting aside historical differences. We hope that this commitment to keeping access to justice for innocent claimants front of mind continues beyond lockdown, and that sharp practice ‘point scoring’ is something both industries reflect on before they return to the fray.’
The Association of British Insurers and Forum of Insurance Lawyers have agreed their own joint guidance, encouraging service and evidence by email and agreeing to use video conferencing for medical examinations.
The Ministry of Justice has also confirmed the amendment of the rule allowing parties to agree extensions of up to 28 days without having to seek the court’s permission. A new practice direction earlier this month provided for this to be doubled to 56 days.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.