Claimant and defendant lawyers must take a ‘leap of faith’ before mediation can be used more widely in personal injury cases, it was suggested last week.

David Southwell (pictured), head of personal injury claims at insurer Zurich, said there was currently too much mistrust on both sides for mediation to play a greater role in resolving disputes.

Speaking at a debate organised by Trust Mediation, Southwell said: ‘There is a lack of trust with the claimant community. I think some claimant lawyers will not buy in, because if the case settles early, they will not make as much money.’

Responding from the audience, Irwin Mitchell’s high-profile claimant lawyer Colin Ettinger rejected the notion that claimant lawyers were reluctant to mediate because they wanted more costs.

He said: ‘On this side, we find that until we show an insurance company the whites of the eyes of the court, they are not serious in their negotiations. That is why there is quite a lot of litigation in PI, and why we press on to a hearing.’

Southwell replied that there needed to be a ‘leap of faith on both sides of the fence’.

While many personal injury cases are resolved through joint settlement meetings, Ettinger noted that mediation can be helpful in resolving cases where the parties are at a ‘low ebb’ in their relations with one another, and a neutral mediator can help to restore ‘trust and confidence’.

Southwell noted that mediation had proved particularly successful in multi-party actions.

He added that, unlike a joint settlement meeting, mediation gave defendants a chance to apologise to the injured person, which goes a long way to ‘taking the tension out’ of the negotiations.