The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that a working group will next month begin the process of creating medical panels to assess whiplash injury claims.
The group is likely to be made up of representatives of claimant and defendant lawyers and insurers, as well as bodies such as the Law Society and British Medical Association.
The MoJ convened a meeting of stakeholders on Monday to discuss possible whiplash reforms and the plan is now to create proposals for the medical panels, focusing on claims below £5,000, by July.
The ministry has also confirmed there is no prospect of change to the limitation period for personal injury, although changes to the small claims limit ‘remain under consideration’ for the future.
Medical panels were the key element of the government’s response to a consultation on reducing the number and cost of whiplash claims, published last October.
It is likely that, once established, only medical reports from accredited examiners would be accepted as evidence in whiplash claims. This would probably involve a specific, standardised form for such reports that would be available equally to claimants, insurers and the courts.
Although the government will need to publish a full impact assessment and consult with relevant bodies, it is hoped the panels could be in place as soon as the autumn.
As part of the consultation response, justice secretary Chris Grayling said he wanted insurers to ‘end the practice’ of making offers to settle claims without requiring medical evidence.
He will want to press them to share more of their data on suspected fraudulent or exaggerated claims with claimant lawyers, with claimant lawyers also encouraged to carry out more effective checks on potential clients.
Philip Waters, a solicitor from personal injury firm Your Legal Friend, said the establishment of an independent medical panel to assess whiplash claims is a ‘crucial step’ in ensuring all road traffic accident victims have a fair assessment of their injuries.
He added: ‘This will help stamp out fraudulent or exaggerated claims and put an end to the practice of insurers making claimants offers to settle without seeking advice from a medical expert.
‘We believe that all personal injury claims should go through an independent medical assessment and we have been campaigning for this for some time.
‘However there must be proper care taken over who is on that panel, and what any ‘standardised’ reporting will look like. The panels should in no way end up being run by large medical agencies employing lower-skilled staff to tick boxes.’