Unrepresented claimants will need more information and financial safeguards if they are to navigate the complex path of instructing medical experts, industry insiders have stressed.
From next April, thousands of RTA claimants are likely to be without a lawyer as the small claims limit rises to £5,000. That will mean they must – as the solicitor does at present – instruct their own medical expert to diagnose their injuries, and potentially even pay for the report if the other party has denied liability.
Experts warned this week that the government must build in greater protection if litigants in person are going to use the newly-built portal to access MedCo, which currently runs the electronic system for allocating experts.
In its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on future provision, MedCo said unrepresented claimants should not be required to choose from a list of specialists when they are more likely to be satisfied with a medical report from a GP.
The current search criteria, as accessed by lawyers, would be too wide under the new regime, with the concept of different tiers of experts being meaningless to litigants in person and too complicated to understand. The response added: ‘A bewildering array of choice could drive unrepresented claimants into the hands of CMCs, or other ‘non solicitor’ representatives, as they may be forced to seek advice on which MRO/expert to instruct.
‘Safeguards to prevent this need to be devised and built into the new portal service.’
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has called for medical reports to be free for all injured people regardless of whether liability is admitted.
The issue of who will pay where liability is denied has yet to be resolved. Currently the claimant’s representative is likely to cover the fixed £180 cost for each report, but the MoJ has yet to decide on a contingency plan post-April.
‘The MoJ’s plans are for the wrongdoer to pay the upfront cost of the medical report but only when liability is admitted or partially admitted,’ said APIL’s immediate past president Brett Dixon. ‘All an insurer will need to do is to deny liability and the claimant will most likely go away. Many people do not have the means to pay £180 up front. Also, they may not feel confident against experienced, bankrolled, defendant lawyers on their own, and worry about the risk of not getting the money back.’