We can all breathe a sigh of relief - the Government is not going to force more injured people to pursue their compensation claims alone in the small claims court, at least for the time being.
When the Government first talked about putting personal injury cases worth up to £5,000 in the small claims court, we were horrified. The small claims court is, let’s face it, the place to go for claims about unpaid debts or faulty fridges, but it is no place for the victim of negligence trying to fight for settlement against a big insurance company. It’s a David and Goliath situation – one which would put off many genuinely injured people from pursuing a claim. We highlighted many risks in our consultation response to the Government, not least that injured people would suffer. At last some common sense has prevailed.
The Government’s objectives are clearly stated – to deter fraudsters and prevent exaggerated claims, whilst protecting those genuinely injured. Putting these claims into the small claims court would have countered these objectives – those genuinely injured would be put off and would not get the redress they need, whilst fraudsters, who tend to be more brazen about things, would potentially prosper, assisted by the more unscrupulous claims management companies who would have free rein to run the claims. We believe that the decision to keep these claims out of the small claims court protects these strong objectives.
So what has the Government done to improve the current situation? Well, it has taken a number of careful, proportionate steps. Firstly, it is looking to improve the quality of the medical reports carried out on victims of whiplash and other soft tissue type injuries. This is good news – our byword is quality. It will eliminate fraudulent claims and detect exaggeration in one fail swoop. This will save everyone money on their motor premiums – insurers will pay compensation only where people are genuinely injured. However, a high quality system of medical reporting is only good if it is actually used. At present, insurers often circumvent the process by making offers to settle cases before the claimant has even seen a doctor. This has created an environment of easy money, where fraudsters know that in many cases they will just be offered a quick cheque without checks. The Government intends to ban these ‘pre-med’ offers so that every single person will be seen by a properly accredited independent expert before they receive any compensation. We have been campaigning for this for some time and see it as a real step forward in the fight against fraud.
There are other things in the Government’s armoury – data can be essential in the fight against fraud, and it calls upon insurers to share data with lawyers so that potential fraudsters can be spotted right at the start of a claim. It also calls for the insurance industry to collect robust data about the number of accidents and the number of whiplash injuries. At present the data is partial – most accidents are not reported to the police, so police figures cannot be reliable indicators. Insurers are, however, aware of every accident where a vehicle is damaged, and are in a position to provide informative, reliable, data which could inform Government policy-making, allowing decisions to be based on evidence rather than hypothesis. They could also provide essential information to others such as the Highways Agency who look to make roads safer. Safeguards will have to be built in, however, such as independent audit – there are real concerns about whether insurers’ data could be trusted when they use it to drive the industry’s own policy agenda.
So there is some detail to be worked through, but, in theory, good honest motorists can now look forward to reduced premiums as a result of fraud and exaggerated claims being removed from the system. The Government has listened.
About time, if you ask me.