The Association of British Insurers seems to have a habit of inviting confrontation.
Insurers got pretty well all they asked for from the government in relation to reductions in the amounts of legal costs recoverable by victims. An independent report from the Parliamentary Select Committee On Whiplash injuries strongly criticised the overly close relationship between insurance companies and the conservative led coalition government –
Despite this, the attacks on victims go on and on. Their policy spokesman, Rob Cummings, said this week that there was a ‘whiplash epidemic’. The parliamentary committee found in fact, that the numbers of claims were reducing. This rhetoric suggests that claims are fraudulent even though the ABI could not provide the parliamentary committee with any evidence of the scale of the ‘problem’. The truth is that only a tiny percentage of claims are fraudulent and they damage all of us who are involved in civil justice. We all want to see an end to them, but this is not achieved by these blanket attacks on claimant lawyers.
Mr Cummings then showed an alarming ignorance of the impact of recent reforms on access to justice. He said that there was no evidence that justice for ‘genuinely’ injured claimants was impeded (why the constant suggestion that the genuine are somehow a minority?).
Interestingly the President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) suggests the opposite. Writing in the March edition of APIL’s PI Focus magazine Matthew Stockwell talks about ‘institutionalised’ cherry picking. What he means is that the new costs regime makes it commercially unviable for lawyers to take on risky cases, especially those with a lower value. Now that a chunk of the legal costs has to come from damages lawyers can only afford to take on those which will provide some return. He warns that many ‘genuine’ claimants are now at risk of falling into a ‘justice gap’. I bet the ABI won’t complain about that.
Matthew is right. We are seeing firm after firm decide that personal injury work is no longer viable. They are either closing or selling their work to other firms. I have no doubt that this will lead to a further reduction in the numbers of cases. This is the reality and it is happening as we speak.
This time next year; we will still hear insurers banging on about a compensation culture.
But there will certainly be fewer lawyers for them to target..