From 1st April, the government is changing the law on how a personal injury claim is made and who has to pay your solicitors bill, in favour of the insurance industry. This will have a detrimental effect on all injured people, who will become responsible for having to pay part of their solicitors bill. At the same time some solicitors will stop doing personal injury work, or at least the more simple accident claims, because they are unlikely to be profitable even with a contribution towards the overall costs from the client.
Currently, an injured person can instruct a solicitor knowing that they are likely to receive all of their compensation, providing the claim for the injury is worth more than £1,000, as other losses are claimed on top of this.
At the end of a claim, a solicitor presents his detailed bill to the other side and a settlement is usually agreed. If not, the court determines the amount to be paid. This will include the cost of medical reports, an insurance premium and a success fee. When Legal Aid was removed from accident claims, success fees were introduced by the government to make up for those cases which solicitors took on and discontinued or lost at trial — the idea being that all injured people were entitled to seek advice.
The net result of no win – no fee agreements is that there are fewer claims being made due to solicitors only getting paid if they win. Under the Legal Aid scheme, payment was received even where the case was lost.
After 1st April, however, the guilty party or their insurer will no longer be required to pay all your legal costs. In the new system, victims will have to pay for their own insurance to protect them from paying the other sides’ costs if they lose a claim. Success fees will not have to be paid by the guilty party either.
On top of this, if the government have their way, fixed costs will be brought in for different types of claims. These ‘recoverable costs’ will be set according to the amount of damages recovered. They will have no bearing at all on the level of work actually done on your behalf.
What this means in practice is, that an insurer could as they often do now, by way of stalling for time, denying liability, denying they have previously agreed something in the claim, losing letters and so on, cause your solicitor to have to do extra work to force the claim to a settlement whilst not being able to charge the insurer for all the actual work done.
The government’s idea is that the victim should contribute 25% of their compensation to make up the solicitors bill and pay for insurance to protect themselves.
What the government is ignoring is that the victims of accidents did not look to be injured and, that they are innocent within the process and at the mercy of arrogant and bullying insurance companies.
The full details of what is to happen after 1st April are not yet known. This is because the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has commenced a Judicial Review of the government’s proposed action.
As well as this, the company that runs the electronic portal have been unable to build the new computer system required to work the new claims systems by the 1st April. Some of the proposals are therefore postponed for now. Despite this, the courts have produced new rules to deal with injury claims.
My advice is that if you have suffered an accident and been injured or, have been diagnosed with an illness caused by your work, in the last three years, then you need to see a solicitor as soon as you can and certainly well before the 1st April 2013 for a free assessment of your case so that you can start your claim before then.
Michael Pace is Head of the Motor Law and Personal Injury Teams at Andrew & Co Solicitors in Lincoln and Newark. He joined Andrew & Co in 1998 and took over the leadership of the Personal Injury Team in 1999. He has since developed a niche practice in Defendant Motor Law building on his previous experiences in the police force and represents both individuals and companies who find themselves in court for criminal motoring offences. He is a regular speaker and lecturer for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.