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Cameron commits government to cutting £1,200 portal fee

Insurers accused of 'rushing to settle' whiplash claims

20 February 2012

David Cameron invited the heads of some of Britain’s biggest insurers to Downing Street last week for a summit to discuss ways of cutting the cost of personal injury claims.

Along with committing the government to cutting the £1,200 fee charged by lawyers for RTA portal work, the prime minister suggested a minimum impact speed could be applied before whiplash claims could be brought, but gave no specific details.

Other possible measures aimed at clamping down on whiplash were demanding better medical evidence and introducing a minimum financial limit on cases.

MPs on the transport select committee said last month that the government should consider bringing in new laws to crack down on whiplash claims if the Jackson reforms failed to reduce them.

Former justice secretary Jack Straw’s private member’s bill, which proposed cutting the portal fee and requiring more medical evidence on whiplash, is to return to the Commons later this month (see solicitorsjournal.com, 19 September 2011).

Donna Scully, chair of MASS, said whiplash injuries were “very real” for thousands of innocent accident victims and their rights to justice must not be ignored.

“The increase in whiplash claims is as much about insurers rushing to settle before they have seen medical reports as it is fraud,” she said.

“There must also be a commitment to impose data protection legislation on all introducers of personal injury claims so that fraudulent whiplash claims are not encouraged in the first place.”

Scully described imposing a minimum impact speed as “simply the wrong approach” and said there was strong medical evidence that very slow accidents could, in certain circumstances, cause serious injury.

Deborah Evans, chief executive of APIL, agreed that speed was not the only factor in whiplash injuries.

“If you’ve got a Mini hit by a Range Rover, the impact will be very great, with painful and lasting injuries,” she said.

Evans said it could also depend on who the victim was. Women, who have thinner necks, older people and people who had already been victims of whiplash were more vulnerable.

“We would not recommend a minimum speed limit,” she said. “Each situation should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

Evans said the £1,200 fee for settling RTA cases on the portal was set in 2010, when it was established, following an agreement with the insurers.

“It was based on a basket of cases approach,” she said. “A lot more work is needed on the larger cases.”

Evans said there was already a good system in place for medical evidence, but it was not being used.

“Insurers are putting offers to settle out before there is evidence as to whether there is a case or not,” she added.

Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said the government “should not be limiting itself to tea and cakes with one partisan set of stakeholders – the insurers”.

He went on: “There are many options to address, from government, opposition, and others, which need proper consideration.

“We wrote to the prime minister over a month ago, but it is disappointing that our offer to work with him and his government in addressing public concerns over whiplash claims has been ignored.”

Otto Thoresen, director general of the ABI, John Cridland, director general of the CBI, Trevor Matthews, chief executive of Aviva UK, and Stephen Lewis, chief executive of Zurich UK, were all at the summit.

David Cameron was also joined by justice minister Nick Herbert and Justice Greening, the transport secretary.

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