Two personal injury firms are leading a campaign to challenge government proposals for greater independence in whiplash diagnosis.
Justice minister Lord Faulks wrote last week to solicitors and insurers suggesting there should be no ‘financial link’ between parties that commission a medical report and the company providing it.
The proposal is part of wider plans to reduce the number and cost of soft-tissue injuries resulting from road traffic accidents.
James Maxey, managing partner at Manchester firm Express Solicitors, and Michael Jefferies, managing partner at Jefferies in Altrincham, have joined forces to challenge to the plans.
Maxey (pictured) said that he is an owner of Express Solicitors and of Ontime Group, which provides outsourcing services for claimant PI firms, including costs lawyers, investigations and a medical agency.
‘Unsurprisingly, the medical agency does the vast majority of my firm’s work, as well as working for other, quality claimant PI practices,’ said Maxey. ‘Our feeling is that this is an unreasonable restraint of trade. Solicitors are not precluded from owning non-solicitor businesses and why should they be in these circumstances?’
The two law firms want to hear from other practices and lawyers prepared to pool resources to fund a challenge.
If there is sufficient interest, counsel will be selected and legal proceedings can begin.
Maxey said the government has overlooked the existing checks in the system that ensure claims are legitimate.
He added: ‘Lord Faulkes’ letter refers to concerns about independence, but solicitors are governed by their own code and the Civil Procedure Rules in this regard, as are the medical experts. The last people trying to undermine the experts’ independence are in fact the claimant’s solicitors.’
The government has emphasised that its proposals are open to debate but it is keen to break links between law firms that run claims and the medical agencies that diagnose them.
Faulks said: ‘It is proposed that, as an preliminary measure, a prohibition should be introduced on either party having a financial interest in an intermediary through which a medical report is obtained.
However, we want to explore the issue of independence further to ensure that reciprocal arrangements cannot be established between different commissioning firms in order to subvert this prohibition.’