Lawyers urge Lord Chancellor to rethink whiplash reforms
Implying lawyers dishonestly profit from insurance claims is â€˜absurd and offensive', says claimant solicitor
The government is placing the interests of insurance companies ahead of innocent people suffering from ‘minor’ soft tissue injuries, lawyers have warned ahead of this week’s deadline for responses to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on its whiplash reforms.
Issuing its response to the consultation, Hudgell Solicitors has called on the justice secretary, Liz Truss, to rethink her controversial proposals announced in November 2016, and said the reforms ignore the burden that will be passed from insurance companies to the state, and particularly the NHS.
The firm’s group head of legal practice, Amanda Stevens, who recently highlighted the unnecessary risk taken by the government with its ‘hidden’ rehabilitation reforms, said that the law provides for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity to be compensated, ‘but the government seems intent on removing this fundamental right’.
Stevens added that the plans also rode roughshod over the insurance industry’s own research, which shows that up to 10 per cent of motorists with soft tissue injuries develop more serious long-term health issues if left untreated.
Though the government’s stated aim is to reduce car insurance premiums by an average of £40 per motorist, the plans could extend to non-motor injuries, such as employer’s liability and clinical negligence.
Hudgells, along with many other claimant practices, is opposing plans to move all claims for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity worth up to £5,000 into the small claims court, proposals to remove or restrict the right to damages, and the suggestion that injured people should pay for their own treatment.
‘Most of the consultation is unfairly skewed in favour of insurers,’ said Stevens. ‘It seeks to shift the burdens you would expect to fall on them onto innocent injured people and state bodies that will pick up the tab for unmet need.
‘There is an underlying implication that many ordinary people, lawyers, and doctors are seeking to dishonestly make a profit from insurance claims – it’s absurd and offensive. There have already been massive cuts to the cost of these claims as well as a fall in the number of claims in recent years, and yet insurance premiums continue to go up and up.’
Stevens also bemoaned how many of the reforms are based on anecdotal evidence. ‘The insurance industry itself has been unable to produce any reliable or compelling data to support its claims of widespread fraud’, she said. ‘So the many innocent people are to lose out due to the actions of a dishonest few – this is no way to make government policy and I fervently hope Liz Truss will think again.’
Writing in Solicitors Journal this week, Qamar Anwar, the managing director of First4Lawyers, said the reforms were propaganda designed ‘to kid the public’. ‘The reality is that these reforms do not tackle the issues raised,’ he wrote. ‘If fraud is the real issue, then tackle it at source and make a real stand against it so that everyone benefits.’
Anwar also warned that those claimants unwilling to accept £425 for their injuries will be left fighting a David and Goliath battle against the ‘mighty’ insurance industry and their lawyers, with only McKenzie Friends to rely upon.
Last month, Patrick Allen, the senior partner of Hodge Jones & Allen, criticised the MoJ’s suggestion that claims management companies and McKenzie Friends could assist claimants instead of lawyers, saying: ‘These people are untrained, uninsured, and unaccountable. They could scarcely be less suitable for the role.’
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal