2015 has been quite a year for PI lawyers and the insurance industry. PremExtra reviews the major news stories from a memorable 12 months...
Long before the Christmas 2014 decorations were boxed away, here at Premex we had a pretty good idea what would be the defining issue of this year.
MedCo had been on the cards and was finally introduced in the spring. Premex quickly recognised the challenges this would create for instructing parties and moved fast to provide advice and support as users familiarised themselves with the system.
We followed this throughout the year with tips on how to keep instructing in the most efficient way possible.
But 2015 hasn’t been defined by a single issue. Here’s our roundup of the top stories from across the year…
Insurers declared war on industrial deafness claims in 2015 and PremExtra reported in January how news of sky-high repudiation rates were being welcomed by defendants. However, a stock market analyst quickly poured cold water on the story as he thought there may be a little embellishment in the claims; BNP Paribas analyst Andy Hughes called into question the industry's ability to keep pace with Aviva's claimed repudiation rate of 85%.
This year would also become one in which the falling number of claims management companies was put into the spotlight. An early report from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries warned that a general decline in numbers might be reversed owing to the popularity amongst insurers of the Alternative Business Licencing regime. A study by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries showed a 35% drop in CMC numbers. However, ABS licences are so popular with insurance firms that the researchers indicated there is a risk of reversing the 12% claims reduction the IFoA has seen since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
Accounting firm Mazars’ actuarial and risk director Simon Yeung said: "All it would take is for one or two insurers to proactively start using an ABS like a CMC and that would spread, and virtually all of the big brands have one at the moment."
As the days grew longer, both claimants and defendants found themselves at the mercy of more Ministry of Justice costs as new court charges representing a 600% increase for many were introduced. A rush to submit cases to the courts before the controversial system was implemented was perfectly summed up by Joshua Rosenberg who reported in the Guardian: “If you sue someone this week and claim £200 000, you will have to pay a court fee of £1,515. On Monday 9th March, the fee goes up to £10 000.”
Certainly one of the busiest months of the year for personal injury professionals, the MedCo portal was launched on 6th April and Premex once again proved itself to be the brand people trust. We made an extra effort to field as many calls as possible from solicitors to help guide them through the new system.
“This was a really challenging time for our customers,” said Wayne Brannan, Business Development Manager at Premex Services. “All of our departments were devoted to working with customers to help them navigate their way through MedCo, even when Premex Services wasn’t being instructed. We took the view early on that it was only right for us to help out. For the majority of those who call us, Premex has been their preferred provider until now, so as long as we’re able to help we’ll continue to provide guidance and support.”
News that the Ministry of Justice was the government department with the highest average absence (8.64 days per person) prompted wry smiles among personal injury professionals. Despite the levity, the MoJ sickness rate was a concern for ministers, particularly with the busy programme of reforms its department was implementing.
Thankfully, some of the targets of its rival departments appeared to be on track. For instance, the Department of Transport (7.96 average days sick) had frequently pushed for a reduction in the cost of motor insurance. So reports in the Daily Mirror of a 6% fall in premiums may have boosted the recovery of some staff keen to carry on with the good work.
A war of words broke out over allegations that personal injury lawyers were 'milking the system' of NHS clinical negligence claims, following a report in Solicitors Journal. The furore came in the wake of an investigation by the Daily Telegraph and involved health minister Ben Gummer claiming lawyers had acted 'unscrupulously' by using patient claims to pile excessive costs onto the NHS.
This provoked an angry response from personal injury lawyers including Simpson Millar partner Peter Stefanovic. He blamed the NHS for 'routinely fighting meritorious claims and inflating costs for everyone'.
For some, the quietest month of the year, but in August 2015, the Claims Management Regulator spoke up louder than usual.
On 10th August Post Magazine reported the regulator’s first ever ‘nuisance fine’ after it slapped a £220,000 bill on the Hearing Clinic. It turned out the company had been making speculative calls to potential customers, despite having not subscribed to a telephone preference service. This has of course been dwarfed by subsequent fines against other PPI claims companies.
As the summer months drew to a close, there were signs of the sort of co-operation promised by new Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) president Jonathan Wheeler. In an open letter to its counterparts in the insurance industry, APIL asked for greater collaboration on tackling rogue claims management companies and to launch a collective campaign in support of improving young drivers’ safety.
Wheeler also called for mandatory public liability insurance as he reminded everyone that 2015 had been a more co-operative year than others. “It’s only been three months since insurers started sharing data with claimant lawyers to help prevent fraud. A few years ago no-one would have placed bets on this being achieved,” he said.
Normal service was quickly resumed however as Autumn changed to winter. First, the Forum of Insurance Lawyers (Foil) ruffled feathers by calling for the launch of a new portal to handle mesothelioma claims that would offer fixed costs to the victim's lawyer if a defendant or insurer admitted liability in 30 days.
Then as we all know, George Osborne introduced his plans for a new small claims limit. Reaction to this was particularly interesting given that both claimant and defendant lobbies were critical. Speaking to the Law Society Gazette, FOIL President Duncan Rutter warned how ‘making changes to the system for compensating victims of accidents could have unintended consequences’.