The Ministry of Justice have this week announced their approval of new reforms to the procedure governing whiplash claims. The Ministry of Justice is proposing that an independent panel of medical experts are put in place; in an attempt to reduce the number of ‘bogus’ claims that are paid out each year. The reforms, set to be introduced in 2014, form part of the Government’s plan to reduce the cost of running a car and follow investigation by the Transport Select Committee.
Any car driver knows insurance premiums are costly. In statistics provided by insurance companies, fraudulent claims cost them Â£2bn in pay-outs and lead to an average of Â£90 in increases to premiums. At present, a third party insurer can make an offer to settle a claim without of an opinion of a medical expert. This is referred to as ‘pre-med offer’; and it is these practices that the Government are aiming to abolish in order to reduce the number of fraudulent claims.
The changes were initially going to run alongside an increase of the limit to a “small’ claim from Â£1,000 to Â£5,000. However, this proposal will now not be implemented straight away as the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is waiting to assess the effects of the wider reforms on costs and frequency of claims before making any further changes. This is not to say, however, that the limit will not be raised in the future.
The new proposals have faced fierce scrutiny from the legal profession and those that represent honest claimants seeking compensation for their injuries. According to shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter, the reforms are “an attack on access to justice, the legal profession and genuine victims’. Slaughter also commented that “the Government is using whiplash claims as a front for further restrictions in the provision of legal advice in Road Traffic Accident Claims, including ones which are medically and legally complex and serious’. A view which will, no doubt, be supported and vocalised by the majority of solicitors who represent the victims of road traffic accidents.
The practical impact of the reforms will mean that an accredited board of medical experts will be formed, and only their evidence can be used within the course of a claim for Personal Injury. Further, the Government have also hinted that the board of experts will be used to produce reports for all soft tissue injury claims (not just Road Traffic Accidents) to avoid any unusual rises in other sorts of claims. In the Government’s view, having a panel of independent medical experts will establish a more robust method of medico-legal reporting. The new accreditation would be open to all medical professionals, not just doctors.
Only time will tell as to how these reforms impact upon the process of claiming compensation for accidents. It can only be hoped that the impact upon the victims of accidents themselves is kept to a minimum; and people are still able to legitimately claim the compensation they deserve for the pain and suffering incurred through no fault of their own.
By Nick Molyneux, Personal Injury Lawyer, Accrington
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