Since February 2013, when the Government announced its proposal to step up the threshold for the small claims track for personal injury from £1,000 to £5,000, an issue of growing concern has been access to justice for ordinary members of the public involved in a road traffic accident
Yet it often seems that it is the same rehearsed arguments, focused on fraudulent claims causing unavoidable raised premiums, which tend to receive significant publicity.
Restoring the balance of justice
While government consultations consistently call upon professionals from a variety of organisations and industry sectors to take part in a rigorous examination of the critical issues, rarely if at all are voices heard from the one section of the community who are most affected by the proposed changes – the legitimate road traffic accident claimants, themselves.
It’s a consistent oversight, which has long needed to be addressed if the balance of justice is to be restored, more often at the heart of claimant motivation than is generally recognised.
With the majority of road traffic accidents estimated to be below £5,000, it became increasingly obvious that there was an urgent need to properly determine the effects upon the real traffic accident victim of the government proposal to bring, primarily, whiplash claims but also most road traffic claims under the small claims track procedure.
YLF Report highlights claimant limitations
To this end, Your Legal Friend commissioned “UK Road Traffic Accidents : ‘A Driver’s View’ – a report carried out by award winning research house ComRes, which surveyed just over 1,000 drivers who were involved in one or more road traffic accidents in the past 5 years.
The figures show that nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of those drivers who had previously pursued legal action said they would not be able to pay for legal representation themselves.
More worryingly, it was further found that those claimants who had not taken any legal advice or had limited access to justice were more likely to accept settlements below their compensation entitlement.
A significant number of those drivers surveyed either do not know the level of compensation entitlement or say they received a higher compensation than was originally estimated once legal action had been taken.
Claimant less likely to go to court
Under the small claims track, claimants who must bear sole responsibility for solicitor’s fees are less likely to decide to go to court against the full professional might of the defendant’s insurer because now the costs of the legal procedure might be higher than the compensation claimed.
Not only is a claimant’s legal entitlement to justice looking increasingly restricted, two thirds (66 per cent) of the drivers surveyed who pursued legal action said they felt stressed throughout the process and 62 per cent admitted they would have liked more emotional support.
The findings of the survey, while not presuming to be representative of the entire road traffic accident claimant population are, nevertheless, statistically representative and suggest that there is potential for a very real restriction being placed on the ability of ordinary men and women of limited financial means to receive a fair and equitable justice service.
Report launch at Westminster
On Tuesday 26th, Colin Billing joint MD and Colin Gibson, CEO, of 2020 Legal Limited, the parent company of Your Legal Friend hosted a cross party, roundtable event at Westminster to launch the commissioned report. Chaired by Kwasi Kwarteng MP, the session was also intended to stimulate debate among key attendees, including Craig Budsworth, from The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), Robert Khan, Head of Law Reform at The Law Society and Dr Andre Brittain-Dissont, medico-legal expert.
At the outset, Colin Billing was particularly concerned to point out the Report’s findings that, “... it is a tiny minority who consider taking unjust legal action ...corroborated by ABI data, which found that only 4-7 per cent of RTA claims are fraudulent or exaggerated...and we must not allow the majority of genuine victims to suffer because of the actions of the very few.”
“Time to hear from the victims”
At the opening of the roundtable Colin made it very clear that, “no one has looked at the view of the victims themselves. The insurers and lawyers have had their say, and we felt it was time to hear from the victims.”
While concern was raised over past and present issues of data collecting and evaluation as a critical part of the decision making process, with regard to the level of claims recorded, Colin Billing argued the figures are more likely to reflect that “people are more aware of their rights.”
Debate also touched upon pre-medical offers made by insurers. The Transport Select Committee report in July 2013 concluded the practice should cease, and it was also felt that taking this action would help to guard against under-settlement.
Further discussion and cooperation
Agreement was broadly reached that following all of the reforms implemented so far during 2013, it was vitally important to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Kwasi Kwarteng said, “The good thing is that in 12 months’ time we can see the results of the changes [of the April–June reforms] and we can have a further discussion.”
According to Craig Budsworth of MASS, “We are beginning to achieve progress, but cross industry co-operation is vital.”
As part of the process, Colin Billing also calls upon the Government, “to speak to professional personal injury lawyers as well as the victims of road traffic accidents themselves to receive their representations before finalising any further reforms.”