A sharp increase in the number of firms seeking after-the-event insurance cover for handling medical negligence claims is prompting concerns that inexperienced practitioners are turning to the specialism in search of quick wins.

Medical negligence claims are not covered by fixed costs rules imposed on most personal injury work in 2013. Insurers have been alerted by an increase in firms seeking ‘delegated authority’ as part of the cover provided for cases. Such authority is provided prior to a claim being brought, and before experts’ reports have been produced.

Richard Whale of insurer DAS Law Assist told the Gazette that when a firm seeks delegated authority, he asks to see its case statistics.

The clear trend, he said, is that firms ‘either don’t have statistics or, where they do have statistics, they have settled no cases because they have only been taking on medical negligence cases in the past six to nine months’. Medical negligence claims, handled properly, will never be a ‘quick win’, he added.

Lesley Graves, partner at niche consultancy Citadel Law, which reviews law firms’ personal injury practices on behalf of management boards, banks and insurers, echoed the concern. ‘More firms are taking on [medical negligence] cases without expertise,’ she said. ‘Others have the relevant APIL or Law Society accreditation – but have poor controls, and do not do well enough for clients.’

Running medical negligence cases is ‘costly’ and necessary investigations have a ‘long tail’, she said. Firms that are badly set up to handle such cases are routinely finding that they have to write off disbursements and, unable to bring cases to a conclusion, see cases running close to or beyond limitation periods.

A further source of negligence may come in poor advice regarding funding of cases.

Legal aid is still available for many birth injury cases, but Graves said she has seen cases where clients have not been advised that public funding is available – and as a result have funded cases through a conditional fee agreement.