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Plans to force accident victims into court "will penalise injured people"
Government proposals to force thousands of injured motorists into small claims court will jeopardise victims’ access to fair and appropriate compensation according to Karl Tonks, a partner with Fentons Solicitors LLP and president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
Karl was speaking following the publication of the consultation ‘Reducing the number and cost of whiplash claims’ which proposes that people injured in road traffic collisions should be made to pursue claims for compensation in a court which is designed for individuals to represent themselves rather than take legal advice.
“Whilst the Government’s effort to clamp down on the number of fraudulent claims is welcome and indeed supported by solicitors,” said Karl, “it should be noted that there is a massive distinction between the person who makes a claim for whiplash after being injured in an accident through no fault of their own, and the fraudulent claimants who are out to make money at everyone else’s expense.
“But for some unknown reason, the term ‘whiplash’ is now used interchangeably with ‘fraudulent’ – which is simply very, very wrong.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live today (Wednesday 13 March), Karl sought to explain why the number of personal injury claims had increased while the number of accidents on our roads had reduced.
“People are more aware of their right to claim,” he said, “and research has shown that 30% of people who bring claims have been encouraged to do so by the insurance industry - by their insurers - with one insurer effectively trying to ‘do down’ another. So the insurance industry has been part of this increase in the number of claims.
“What’s really important – as the insurers do actually agree - is that those people who are injured get the right amount, the fair amount of compensation, and these proposals unfortunately really do threaten that.
“The problem is that the reforms proposed by the Government - and by the insurers - is that these claims should be dealt with in the small claims court, where injured people through no fault of their own will be on their own in court against an insurance lawyer,” he said. “The problem is that Financial Services Authority has shown that when people deal with insurers direct they get less than half the amount of compensation they should do than when they are represented by lawyers.”
When asked about the number of spam calls and texts people receive inviting them to make a claim, Karl agreed that this was something everyone wanted to see ended – not least the lawyers who were being given a bad name by the practice. “We have all in the industry asked the government to properly stop that,” he said. “But the problem is that it’s not lawyers (using spam), that’s claim management companies and the Government has failed to properly regulate them.”
Referring to the issue of fraudulent claims, Karl pointed out that the insurance industry actually has a database of ‘known, repeat offenders’, and that fraudulent claims could easily be rooted out at source - if that information was shared with claimant lawyers.
“But the point is that there are people out there who are seriously injured through no fault of their own, and we need to make sure they get proper and fair compensation,” he said. “The real issue is that insurers want to deal with claims but they want to deal with them on their own terms, and paying less than full and fair compensation.”
Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester later in the day, Karl said that the proposed reforms were ‘a deliberate attempt to put victims off claiming’.
“We all agree that there must be robust medical evidence,” he said. “We want people to be medically examined. But it then begs the question why some insurers are still settling claims without first seeing a medical report.”
And in response to suggestions that victims could be compensated with ‘care’ rather than money, Karl pointed out that compensation valuations took any care needs into consideration and that compensation was not simply a way to make money. “My clients would much rather not be injured,” he said.
Speaking after the interviews, Karl said that if victims were forced to take their claim to the small claims court, the system was open to exploitation by claims management companies (CMCs) who have a reputation for marketing through intrusive and unwelcome calls and texts.
“Rather than cut down on the spam texting and cold-calling, the proposals would in fact pave the way for them to become more prevalent, just as we’ve seen for mis-sold payment protection insurance claims,” said Karl. “The Government’s proposal effectively represents a business opportunity for CMCs to run claims for injured people in the same way they have taken on PPI claims.
“The fact that CMCs involved in the PPI scandal account for the vast majority of consumer complaints received by the Ministry of Justice speaks for itself. If these proposals go ahead, an unintended consequence will surely be that claims management companies, who are not bound by the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct, will do what they do best – openly tout for claimants and run very large numbers of what could be potentially dubious claims.”
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