In the autumn statement George Osbourne announced measures to ban injured persons in road traffic accidents from seeking damages for soft tissue injuries. At the same time the Conservative Government also indicated that personal injury cases with a value of less than £5,000 would be better dealt with by the injured person through the small claims court and not by a solicitor.
What effect could the changes have?
Despite suffering a soft tissue injury to the spine in a road traffic accident, an injured person may be prevented from recovering damages as a result of this legislation. This will prevent hundreds of thousands of genuine injury victims recovering losses from insurers. This may result in those that have suffered serious injury being left without representation relying upon insurers to settle cases direct.
It’s estimated that in cases of injured people recovering losses, about 95% of such cases would fall below this new limit of £5,000. This means most injured people would be denied access to legal representation and legal advice for these cases.
What does this mean for real people?
Ordinary people will be at the mercy of profit hungry insurers – people like Miss Chloe Blake of Immingham. Chloe suffered ‘classic whiplash’ as a result of a rear end shunt on 9th February 2011 when she was stationary in her vehicle. She was taken immediately after the accident to the Princess Diana Hospital in Grimsby, where she was assessed and told that she had whiplash and should rest. Chloe was recommended to a local solicitor who, as a result of the current system, was willing to see her at her home shortly after the accident. Her solicitor, Richard Meggitt, here at ASD, was able to arrange free physiotherapy to aid her recovery.
Unfortunately, Chloe didn’t recover and over the weeks and months the pain in her lower back and left hip got significantly worse – to the degree that she had to have time off work and lost out on promotion.
This didn’t deter the insurers for the person who caused the accident attempting to buy the claim off for as little an amount of money as possible. Prior to her solicitors obtaining a medical report and just 19 days after the accident, cynically, Ageas Insurance Company attempted to persuade Chloe to accept £1,000. This was before her injuries had been properly investigated and during a period when Chloe was feeling extremely vulnerable.
Insurers claim that there is no evidence that so called ‘pre-med’ offers result in a reduced settlement. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that insurers save millions of pounds a year by settling cases either direct with the injured person or by making low offers before the solicitor has obtained any medical evidence.
Fortunately, Chloe accepted our advice not to settle and a report was obtained initially from a GP. The medical expert believed Chloe would make a full recovery, however given the level of symptoms Chloe was suffering from she was advised to put her claim on hold. Further treatment was arranged in the form of physiotherapy, spinal injections and a nerve root block, all funded by the insurer. As a result of the ongoing chronic pain Chloe was referred for an MRI scan by her solicitor and to a neurologist who diagnosed possible damage to the sacroiliac joint, a joint within the pelvis. Further treatment was recommended. A final report was obtained from a rheumatologist who was able to diagnose chronic pain, likely to have a long-term negative affect upon Chloe’s employment. This significant injury was caused by the original road traffic accident.
Despite numerous low offers from the insurer the case eventually settled for a sum exceeding £60,000 which included a claim for future loss of earnings.
If the Government’s proposed changes go ahead people like Chloe may be left without the right to claim compensation having suffered ‘classic whiplash’ following a road traffic accident; either that or be left at the mercy of insurance companies whose duty is to their shareholders and not the injured person they are asked to compensate.
Following settlement of her case, Chloe said, “Without a solicitor to advise me I may have accepted the low offers offer made by the insurer. I had never sought to recover damages before, I had no idea that my case could only be valued after a medical report. I felt pressured to accept the offer and nearly did, I had no idea how injuries are valued or how much they are worth. My solicitor arranged for the insurer to fund treatment which aided my recovery as well as arranging for me to see a GP, neurologist and rheumatologist to get a proper diagnosis for my pain.”
What are the reasons for the change announced in the statement?
Some commentators have suggested that the insurers are using fraud and exaggeration as an excuse and smokescreen to prevent genuine injury victims from being able to pursue damages for the injury they have suffered. It is estimated that the number of claims for spinal injuries could drop by up to 95% resulting in a saving for the insurance industry of more than £10 billion over the next decade. The Conservative Party has of course a long-standing financial relationship with insurance companies. According to an investigation by the Guardian, financial firms with insurance interests have given the Tories more than £5million since 2010.
Was the autumn statement an award to the insurance industry for the financial support given to the Conservative Party? We may never know. However, do expect innocent injury victims to lose out if the proposals are made into law.