The government has announced a new raft of proposed reforms aimed to improve the personal injury sector, and specifically to reduce the number and cost of whiplash claims in relation to traffic accidents. While this goal has been generally welcomed by solicitors in the area, some quarters of the legal industry have expressed concerns about the nature of the specific reforms that have been proposed.
The government’s aim is to reduce the number of minor whiplash claims relating to traffic accidents, as well as the number of untrue or exaggerated claims – something very much in line with current goals within the personal injury sector itself. The initiative also hopes to bring down the cost of car insurance, with insurers having reportedly pledged to pass on the savings made from lower claims to consumers in the form of an estimated £40 annual discount on the average premium.
While these intentions are not objectionable, some solicitors question the government’s choice of methods. Some are concerned that the proposals simply outline the wrong way to reduce claims, while others fear the reforms could be more wide-reaching than it first appears. Either as a direct result of the current proposals or as a potential consequence of any further changes in the same vein, there are fears that claims for work accident compensation, medical negligence, and other areas of personal injury could be affected in a way that is much less justified.
A wide range of proposals have been suggested, including caps on the amount that can be awarded for minor claims, making medical evidence of injury an absolute requirement for receiving compensation, and an increase in the upper limit for the value of personal injury claims via the small claims court.
However, some of the proposals have been met a little more uncertainly by the legal industry. For example, efforts to eliminate the need for professional solicitors in minor claims have provoked a more mixed reaction. While some solicitors feel that their services are not strictly required for minor claims and would welcome a reprieve from keeping up with fast-changing legislation, others fear that eliminating legal professionals from lower-value claims is a mistake. This could leave people without the legal support they require, and could also eliminate the gatekeeper function that solicitors serve with more minor claims. Indeed, it has even been suggested that such a move could cause claims volumes and costs to increase rather than decrease, as people launch head-first into minor, frivolous, or poorly-supported claims that a solicitor might have prevented.
Other measures have raised concern that, if implemented, they could make it harder for people to bring legitimate claims for their injuries. For example, there are fears that a proposed reduction in claims time limits could lead to injured people missing their chance to claim the compensation they are due.