New Laws for Personal Injury Claimants
The latest stage of the Government’s relentless attack on the perceived “compensation culture” came into force on 1 October this year. Swingeing reductions in the level of fees recoverable by injured Claimants from insurers for the cost of the medical report needed to establish the extent of their injuries were introduced.
In a claim for compensation for a soft tissue injury arising from a road traffic accident (often known as a “whiplash injury”), the cost of an initial medical report will now be limited to just £180, even in cases where the injury is of such severity that a report from an Orthopaedic Consultant is necessary.
The cost of such reports has been regulated for many years by a scale of fees agreed between the insurance industry and the Association of Medical Reporting Organisations (“AMRO”). The cost of a report from an Orthopaedic Consultant has historically been fixed at £465, to recognise the time spent in reviewing the Claimant’s medical records, the examination of the Claimant and the preparation of the report. The fee is now reduced to that paid for a simple GP report.
Can such Consultants really be expected to do the same amount of work for less than half the fee? Common sense says that is unlikely. There is a real danger that many Consultants will give up such work altogether. Those that remain are unlikely to offer the comprehensive service expected of their examination. Some Consultants may expect the injured Claimant to “top-up” the balance of their fee out of the Claimant’s own damages.
The net effect of these changes is likely to be that “conveyor-belt” reports will become the standard. Reports will be sought from GP experts, less qualified and less experienced in such assessments. Our own experiences suggest that such reports are often wildly optimistic in their prognosis and are usually best avoided. If claims are settled more cheaply on the basis of inadequate medical evidence, the only winners will be the insurers.
It is difficult to see how these measures will do anything at all to reduce fraud. Where claims are not genuine, then they must be eliminated. Sadly, despite the window-dressing, these proposals do nothing at all to address that.
Sadly, as pursuit of such claims to previously accepted standards will become uneconomic, many genuine Claimants, who have suffered pain and loss through no fault of their own, may well be forced to submit to the rough and ready “one size fits all” approach that will remain. Many will be let down by the system and compelled to resolve their claims on the basis of inadequate evidence.
The number of valid claims will fall. The number of blameless injured people not properly compensated for their injuries and losses will rise. The insurance industry will tell us all it is in our best interests. It will certainly be in theirs. Beyond that, it is almost impossible to see any wider benefit.