Thursday, May 24, 2007

HIPs Shambles

Its now official - the introduction of Home Information Packs will be
. Its hard to believe that the government have lost their bottle at the eleventh hour in such a pathetic way.

RICS have done the damage with a judicial review application thrown in with sublime timing 2 weeks before the launch date of 1st June.

Our senior conveyancing team have been mooting this prospect for weeks now but somehow you just felt the government would press on regardless. I feel for the law firms and other related businesses who have spent good money on advertising and training. The latter at least wont be a complete waste.

One thing you have to say though is that the government regardless of their majority in the house, do not get to call all the shots in this country. We should be thankful for that at least.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Whiplash compensation - a modern phenomenom

People often sneer when you mention youre in the personal injury game. Its because we lawyers who dabble in the darker arts, are perceived to be the ones feeding the compensation culture in the UK.

Now the sensible voices in the industry (ie APIL) will tell you that there is no compensation culture and that the numbers of claims are declining year on year.

Well I cant speak for the statistics because I couldnt give a toss about figures churned up in some half baked survey - I go on my own instinct and I can tell you now that there definitely IS a compensation culture and I'll explain why.

A mild acquaintance of mine rang me the other day and said he and the wife had suffered a minor bump in the car after he lost control and hit a bollard. His wife was shocked and shaken but nothing too major. His first question to me was - "how much compo would she get for a whippy claim?" He'd lost his bonus and so thought a whiplash claim might be the easy way to recoup the loss. The fact that his wife wasnt injured (much) and didnt seek medical attention - actually held no sway. "Everyone does it" he told me.

Well maybe they do but I cannot take on a case that is dubious from day one and has limited damages potential. It was too risky.

Ive had plenty conversations along these lines over the years. A bump in the car that wasnt your fault nowadays means compensation - one way or another.

Consider the way things used to be:

  • In the 70's and early 80s - you had a bump - the car was the only thing that was discussed
  • This included the insurers who were not too worried about the policyholder
  • You completed your own paper claim form - there was no scripted helpline discussion
  • You were not asked any questions about injuries or the wellbeing of the vehicle occupants
  • You simply put down what happened and stated the vehicle repair costs
  • Occasionally you would see the odd injury appear - usually though they would be the more serious injuries
  • If anyone turned round and said they wanted to claim for whiplash - you nearly fell off your chair and immediately slated them for winging it and being a fraud.
  • You offered a silly figure in compensation - most claimants werent represented because the system did not support this (no LEI etc) and the last thing anyone wanted to do was go into a high street firm and deal with a toffee nosed solicitor with his head lodged firmly up his own ass
  • Most "injured" parties grinned and bared their brief period of pain. It was too much hassle to do anything else.

This was the way things used to be and do you know how I know? Because I used to work on the insurer side of the fence. Like most of the best lawyers around in the personal injury sector - that is where I started my career.

Now we have this situation:

  • You have a bump - the first thing you do if there is any sniff of an injury - is visit the local A&E.
  • The car takes second place
  • You no longer need to gather repair estimates if you are covered comp so you ring your insurer to report the matter and get the ball rolling. You will also ring them if you have limited cover such as third party F&T.
  • Now here's where things are VERY different. The insurer helpline now has a dedicated team dealing with recent accidents (new claims).
  • This team "guide" you through the reporting of the accident and one of the BIG questions will be "were you or any vehicle occupants injured?" If you answer affirmatively - and you will be prodded and poked to do so - then you will immediately have access to legal representation.
  • Now by the end of the first week you might be feeling much better - you had a little niggle in the neck soon after the event but its virtually gone now. But wait - youve already started an injury claim because you said YES to the question. Sod it, theres no point in bringing the compo machine to a halt. Its costing you nothing so why not go ahead.
  • So the claim proceeds, you get the injury compensation in 6-8 months and everyones happy.
  • Oh and the vehicle also gets repaired - mustnt forget the vehicle now must we.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the claimant then tells a pal who tells another pal and before long there is a large group of people who all know its a piece of piss to claim for whiplash injuries. They'll probably do the same if they get chance - its now become the 'done thing' in their eyes

So injuries that once upon a time would never have seen the light of day (and definitely wouldnt be A&E jobs - now become £2500-5000 debts to an insurer somplace. Claims that never used to happen are now made in their hundreds of thousands each year.

The irony of all this is that the insurers who bleat about the compo culture - actually feed the machine. They also get huge kickbacks from their panel solicitors for every injury victim they refer. I guess they feel that if anyones going to get a kickback - it might as well be them. The referral fees involved amount to £millions.

So when it comes to the golden question - is there a compensation culture - the only answer you can give is a resounding YES. Of course their bleeding well is - the system has created it and will continue to feed it.

Im not knocking it. Im just stating the obvious because it wont be long before you read the next chapter in the ' is there a compensation culture?' book.

Its definitely here and its definitely staying.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Personal injury small claims court limit - a victory for common sense

Charlie Falconer may have his critics but as far as Im concerned he's made a great decision in announcing that the small claims personal injury limit will remain at £1000.

Defendant bodies (FOIL & the ABI) have been pushing for some time for the limit to be increased. They would prefer a new ceiling of at least £2500 which they believe would allow claimants (injured victims) to be compensated by the insurers without the involvement of a solicitor. This would reduce costs, reduce delays and still result in adequate compensation being received by the claimant.

To be frank - their argument was complete bollocks.

Insurers dont treat people fairly when they are unrepresented, its a known fact within the industry. Furthermore there are many relatively nasty injuries that can fall within the damages bracket of 2500-3000 such as simple fractures and moderate whiplash injuries. However these claims are not straightforward and most claimants would be left clueless by the procedures and the legalities involved.

Advice bodies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau would be inundated with specialist enquiries they could not handle. The infrastructure would simply not cope.

The DCA have seen through all this and have decided that following a detailed consultation they will be maintaining the current small claims figure of £1000

This means that solicitors can still provide assistance on claims above that level with the assurance that costs can be recovered. This ensures that the claimant is not left with a legal bill, assuming the case is successful, at the end of the case. They have the "access to justice" that they deserve.

So Charlie got this one bang on

He also intends to introduce measures which should help to speed up the whole claims process such as "settlment packs" and compulsory claimant p36 offers when releasing medical evidence. This will in turn reduce costs and delays which was, after all, the main objective of the consultation.

(we can all sleep at night now)