Posts

Claiming compensation for personal injury – Myth v Reality

There has been a lot of recent press coverage aimed at perpetuating the myth of a compensation culture. Much of this PR effort has been orchestrated by the insurance industry and swallowed ‘hook, link and sinker’ by the government .

 

We would like to redress the balance and provide a reasoned argument in support of the right of hurt and injured people to seek fair compensation.

 

    

Myth 

 

We live in a compensation culture where people sue at the drop of a hat for even the most trivial injuries.

 

Reality

  

In order to make a successful claim for personal injury compensation an accident victim has to prove that they have been hurt or injured. Unless the evidence supports the claim the case has no chance of success, ever, period. Spurious damages claims may grab the headlines but they will never see the light of day in court. Anyone can claim compensation but it’s the follow-through that counts and the papers never report on the half-baked claims that never succeed.

 

We are only concerned here about real people who have suffered real injuries.

 

The fact is that many people still don’t realise that they have a right to claim compensation if they have been hurt or injured in an accident that wasn’t their fault.

 

We know from research carried out by the Citizens Advice Bureau that over 60% of people entitled to make a claim for compensation fail to do so. From our own experience, we find that many people who go on to become clients of the firm are unsure about making a claim for a variety of reasons. It’s our job to help accident victims and their families understand their rights and guide them through the legal process.

 

We understand that some people are affected by the myth of a ‘compensation culture’ and may be concerned about what family, friends and even collagues at work will think if they make a claim.

 

For instance, passengers injured in a car driven by a family member or a friend can become distressed by the very thought of seeking damages and workers can be unwilling to claim against their employers for fear of reprisals or victimisation.

 

The reality is that hurt and injured people have a hard enough challenge coming to terms with the effects of their accident without having to deal with the added and unnecessary stress of worrying about paying their bills and coping with their rehabilitation. 

 

We would like to know what you think about the ‘compensaton culture’. We believe that accident victims are coming under increased pressure not to claim compensation and that many are being bullied into accepting low-value, unfair offers from insurance companies. Do you agree?

Referral fees in personal injury cases – the real culprits

How would you feel if your solicitor had sold your personal details to an insurance company, a claims management company, a car hire firm or a vehicle repair garage? …Exactly.

…and how would you feel if your insurance company had sold your personal details without your knowledge??

The fact is that insurance companies have been making money this way for years, by selling accident details to third parties.

Now, having been found out, they now have the bare-faced cheek to welcome the proposed government reforms announced last week by Jonathan Djanogly MP, Under Secretary of State for Jusrtice. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is on record as stating that they didn’t actually want to charge referral fees in the first place but felt they had to otherwise someone else would.

Well that’s alright then. What they really meant to say was that they could not possibly ignore a lucrative, no-cost, income generation stream, so why not have the moral fibre to say so?

Then they shamelessly turn the heat up on innocent accident victims claiming that people who have the temerity to actually seek compensation are the main cause of increases in car insurance premiums.

It is really quite nauseating to hear the insurance companies bleat their belated concerns on referral fees from their newly discovered moral high ground.

As personal injury solicitors helping hurt and injured people every day, we regularly have to dispel the myths and set the record straight on what’s involved in making a compensation claim.

We never have and never will pay an insurance company for a road traffic accident claimant’s details and we would be very happy to see the back of referral fees for all types of personal injury cases.  We would welcome much greater transparency at every stage of the claims process, because for the most part most of the public have got it wrong through no fault of their own.

They have been fed a line by the insurance companies that claiming compensation is borderline immoral in this current climate and conversely  ‘sold’ an idea by the claims companies that they only need to register aclaim to be awarded damages. No wonder people are confused…and no wonder most people with a genuine claim still do not make a claim for compensation (The Association of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux research).

The problem,however, is that the current heated debate has not shed much light on the real culprits, namely the insurance industry and claims management firms.

The former uses its slick PR machine to vilify and stigmatise legitimate claimants and actively discourages accident victims from making a claim. The latter get in between claimants and professionally qualified legal advisors and have created a commodity market in accident claims which they seek to trade.

The real losers are the claimants. Many car accident victims are discouraged by their own insurance company from appointing an independent solicitor and furthermore claimants are generally unaware that they are often not dealing directly with a qualified solicitor but with an unqualified and unregulated claims management intermediary who is normally unable to do anything for them other than ‘find’ them a lawyer – at a price…expensive televison adverts have to be paid for somehow. 

The answer is simple. Let claimants shop around..as most are now already doing.

There is no shortage of advice available to help people make an informed choice and by advice I mean proper independent advice such as that provided by the CAB, The Law Society of Scotland, The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers or organisations such as Headway UK – the Brian Injury Association – none of which have a financial interest in recommending the best solicitor for the job.

As a final check claimants should always seek out and study testimonials from satisfied customers of their preferred law firm. 

 

 

   

 

 

  

Banning referral fees for personal injury claims in the UK – who is to blame for increased car insurance premiums?

According to the Association of British Insurers, motorists who have been in a road traffic accident are the main cause of increased car insurance premiums.

 

Unfortunately for hurt and injured people, insurance companies are winning the public debate on the so-called compensation culture and last week’s decision by the government to ban the payment of referral fees in exchange for the contact details of road traffic accident victims would appear to vindicate their position that UK motorists are driving up costs by making up spurious accident compensation claims with intent to defraud the system…

 

Are we really to believe that the majority of road traffic accident claims are fraudulent?

 

However, let’s assume for argument’s sake that motorists the length and breadth of the UK are indeed staging accidents for the purpose of making a claim. If it is true that fraudulent claims are costing the insurance industry millions and these costs are being passed on to other motorists we have to wonder why these claims are being settled at all.

 

If the insurance companies know for a fact that the claims are fraudulent why on earth are these people not being prosecuted?

 

Either the insurance companies are happy to pay out on fraudulent claims, lazily pass the costs on to other policy holders and not pursue the fraudsters through the courts, or they have no evidence to back up their core assertion that personal injury claims are the cause of increased premiums. THEY CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.

 

We all know how difficult it can be to make a legitimate claim on our own household insurance policy for a genuine accident at home and we all know from personal experience or from talking to family and friends the lengths that insurance companies will go to avoid paying out.

 

Are we really to believe that insurance companies apply a less rigorous test when assessing the merits of a (potentially) costly personal injury claim and deciding whether or not to admit liability?

 

Can it be that insurance companies just don’t like paying out on insurance policies?

 

When making a claim for personal injury following a road traffic accident the injured person has to prove that their injuries were caused by someone else. Without proof there is no claim, period.

 

At Bonnar & Company we very quickly root out any potential accident compensation claims that are likely to fail from lack of evidence. However, injured people can sometimes find it hard to understand that we cannot help them with their claim if we cannot prove that someone else was at fault.

 

It is even harder to take when injuries are very serious and the accident victim has clearly suffered but the fact remains – solicitors need to prove their cases. Otherwise anyone could claim for an injury and the insurance company would just pay up, no questions asked…Wait a minute. Is this not the line we are being fed by the insurance industry?

 

So what is the insurance industry talking about? Simples! The answer is profit, plain and simple. The insurance industry would prefer that nobody made a claim for personal injury and that is why their propaganda machine has moved into overdrive recently to stigmatise hurt and injured people who are already worried about making a claim.

 

Make no mistake we want a healthy and vigorous insurance industry with the financial strength to provide us all with cover but we want a fair insurance industry that will compensate genuine accident victims with as little fuss and bluster as possible.

 

What is an accident victim expected to do? Are we just supposed to grin and bear it when some careless driver runs into us, causing us pain and suffering and forcing us to take time off work…if we’re lucky?

 

What if we’re not lucky? What if we can’t work again? What if we can’t walk again? What if the outcome is even worse for us and by association for our families?

 

Against this backdrop of pain, suffering and loss of earnings the insurance industry has worked tirelessly to paint innocent accident victims as the villains of the piece and make them think twice about taking independent legal advice.

 

Let’s be clear on one thing. A successful personal injury claim is not the same thing as a lottery win. In order to be awarded compensation the successful claimant must have been injured and in order to be awarded a very large sum of money the claimant must have been very seriously injured. Of course not only must the claimant have been injured they have to prove that their injuries were caused by someone else’s negligence.

 

Personal injury compensation is not a guessing game in which claimants and lawyers think of a number and try their luck. Awards are carefully calculated based on pain, suffering and loss of earnings. Despite rumours to the contrary you will not receive a small fortune for a minor injury. It just does not happen.

 

Please also bear in mind that the insurance companies employ an army of solicitors who are not about to sanction a compensation claim without a forensic level of scrutiny. This, incidentally, is the main reason why accident victims need to take independent legal advice.  

 

Assuming an accident victim is determined enough to make a claim for compensation, then the insurance company tries really hard to persuade that person to accept its first and inevitably low offer ‘in full and final settlement’. Insurance companies know the same day and often within the hour, if one of their policy holders has caused an accident and they rush to deal with the claim ASAP often before the injured party has had an opportunity to visit their GP far less consult an independent solicitor.

 

This practice, which is called ‘third party capture’ is endemic throughout the UK and was the subject of a Radio 4 investigation in 2010. Is it fair for multi-national insurance companies to put injured people under intense pressure to settle their claim in the immediate aftermath of their accident? Is this justice? You may well ask why insurance companies rush to settle claims before a personal injury solicitor gets involved.

 

Insurance companies would say that it keeps costs down by short-circuiting the legal process. We would say what about the rights of the hurt and injured to be examined by expert medical professionals and have their claim properly evaluated?    

 

If you are thinking that all personal injury solicitors are ‘ambulance chasers’ you should think about the propaganda that underpins the insurance companies’ position and the fact that it is in their interest to stigmatise both accident victims and their solicitors.

 

But what of the real stigma that rightly attaches to the insurance industry, its PR operation and its legal advisors?    

 

You may wonder who has been receiving referral fees for passing on details of accident victims.

 

One guess?

 

Correct! The insurance industry itself has been pocketing millions over the years and is now portraying its behaviour as ‘squeaky clean’. Admiral Insurance has admitted to earning over £6million per annum from road traffic accident referral fees and one has to wonder what the grand total is across the industry. Our conservative estimate is that the minimum total value of road traffic accident referral fees raked in by the insurance industry is £100 million per annum given the number of insurance companies in the UK and taking Admiral’s ‘take’ as a benchmark.

 

We have not, do not and never will pay an insurance company any money for an accident victim’s personal details. We find the whole idea repulsive as do many of our colleagues in the legal profession.

 

Can we look forward to a reduction in car insurance premiums? Don’t hold your breath but remember the quoted figure of £150 as the average annual saving UK motorists can expect as a result of ‘striking a blow’ against fraudulent compensation claims from car accident victims and their ‘ambulance chasing’ legal advisors.

 

Personally speaking, my blood is boiling at the antics of the insurance industry as it manufactures its own spurious evidence and attempts to stigmatise and disadvantage hurt and injured people at a vulnerable time in their lives.

 

Perhaps, if I look hard enough, I could find a firm of solicitors with no moral compass and no business sense who would be willing to waste their time, money and resources to help me prepare a spurious compensation claim against the insurance industry for ‘aggravated high blood pressure and associated psychological trauma’…or would that be too ridiculous?   

 

Answers on a postcard to the Association of British Insurers.   

Law Society hits back at insurance industry

At long last the Law Society is fighting back against the misinformation being peddled by the insurance industry.

The Law Society has stated that claims the country is in the grip of a ‘compensation culture’ are a myth.  

The Society is responding to a report from the ABI (Association of British Insurers) that said Britain has a ‘have a go’ compensation culture. Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said today’s report by the ABI pumps up the myth about a so-called ‘compensation culture’ and is entirely self serving to the insurance industry:

‘The claim that there are ‘ambulance chasing lawyers’ manipulating the system is utterly unpersuasive. If this is happening why are the insurers not acting and challenging these cases in the Courts? It is nonsense and the ABI should know better.’  

Lawyers exist to ensure that people get their just compensation and are not manipulated by the insurance industry. Does anyone seriously believe that insurers would pay out claims unnecessarily?’

‘The law in this country sees to it that those who are harmed by the negligence of others are entitled to fair compensation. They are not entitled to make a profit from their loss. This is just and it is fair. It is how reasonable insurers seek to settle claims.’

‘Our concern is that these proposals will mean that many people who suffer loss and damage will not be able to get compensation and the insurance industry will not have to pay anything out. You can see why the insurance industry might support such proposals.’

‘The losers will be those victims of poor care in hospitals or negligent employers who need and deserve compensation for often serious and debilitating injuries. This is far from a ‘have a go’ culture.’

‘Only a year ago Lord Young in his report to the Prime Minister on these issues found that there was no such thing as a compensation culture. He found instead that there was a perception of such a culture – often fuelled by misreporting and assertion.’

‘Given that the report is so recent, it is bizarre that the ABI should fuel this misreporting – and spread obfuscation and confusion – on serious issues of public debate.’  

‘It is good to see that the ABI recognises that referral fees should be abolished – a position held by the Law Society- but the fact is that the insurance industry itself has been taking such fees by selling these cases to the highest bidder and has been profiting from accidents as a result.’

‘It is also wrong to suggest that people do not need lawyers. Without an independent lawyer representing them, victims are at the mercy of insurers who have every incentive to pay as little as possible, irrespective of the real needs and rights of the victim. Again, it is easy to see why it is in the interests of the insurance industry to offer settlement to claimants before they have legal advice and to seek to get rid of lawyers who help people get their rights.’ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insurance industry blames personal injury victims for rise in car premiums – again

In the fight to dispel the myth of the compensation culture, we need to respond to the latest piece of insurance industry propaganda which received a ‘fullsome and fawning’ full-page leader in today’s Scottish Daily Mail by Ray Massey, the paper’s transport editor.

Lest we fall victim to the insurance industry’s marketing machine, we need to remember that insurance is a business, that the insurance industry can set any price it likes for its products and that we, the public, have to bear the brunt. Let’s be absolutely clear on this – the insurance companies set the prices…and they decide who to blame for the increase.

Why is it that rising premiums are never, ever the result of a decision to increase profitabilty and maximise shareholder value?….They are always BLAMED on something and / or someone else.

Now, read on…please.

Mr. Massey, quotes extensively from an AA (insurance) report:

‘The £1,000-a-year bill for car insurance is round the corner as booming fraud and ‘abhorrent ambulance chasers’ drive up costs.’

Not content with scaremongering on the cost of car insurance, the AA report and the Mail attempt to tar the legal profession as ‘abhorrent ambulance chasers’. Bonnar & Company does not chase ambulances – we and other reputable law firms fight for an accident victim’s right to sue those responsible for their injuries – a principle which is enshrined in law, incidentally.

Accident victims know that compensation is not delivered to them on a plate, as anyone who has ever tried to make any kind of insurance claim will readily appreciate. People have to fight for their rights and without solicitors like us claimants would be at the mercy of the insurance companies who would simply decide what level of compensation, if any, to offer. Is this fair? Is this justice? We don’t think so. 

If the insurance companies had things their way villagers with pitchforks and flaming torches would even now be forming angry mobs to hunt down and exterminate claimant lawyers. Fortunately for the rest of us who pay premiums and actually expect protection, the insurance companies don’t have things all their own way YET – and this is precisely the reason they pump out one-sided half truths like this feature on a regular basis. They are absolutely desperate to stigmatise accident victims and their legal representatives. 

(Just check the archives of the Daily Mail and many other papers to get a flavour of how the insurance industry operates and what they would have us all believe about personal injury solicitors)  

THE REAL HEADLINE IS:      

Insurance companies don’t like paying out on insurance claims!!!

They positively hate personal injury lawyers and that goes double for firms like Bonnar & Company – we are pleased to say. Well who can blame them when we keep giving them a bloody nose – figuratively speaking of course. Well we don’t care and neither do our clients.   

The article continues:

‘The AA says driving up the cost of cover is increasing fraud – including staged ‘cash for crash’ accidents – and more personal injury claims fuelled by ambulance-chasing lawyers and controversial ‘no win, no fee’ claims firms.

Adding to the costs is the ‘black market’ trade in details of potentially valuable accident ‘victims’ which are bought and sold across the insurance industry for tip-off fees of up to £1,000 – a practice condemned by Transport Minister Mike Penning as ‘abhorrent ambulance chasing’ – that phrase again.

A report by the House of Commons transport select committee last month criticised the cash-for-contacts culture that means within hours of an accident, motorists’ personal details are being sold and resold for under-the-counter referral ‘fees’ – to lawyers, medical experts and accident management companies.

Let’s pause for a minute here. Who, exactly is trading details of car crash victims?

The motorists themselves perhaps?

No. How could they and why would they? All they want is their car back on the road fast.

The police?

 Hardly.

The lawyers? 

No. They don’t have details of an accident until someone contacts them…unless they have spy cameras set up at every road junction in the land.

Which leaves…THE INSURANCE COMPANIES!

Think about it. Who is first to get the full details of a road traffic accident?

The report then makes much of the ‘fact’ that ‘Motorists are then bombarded with hard-sell calls from ‘no win, no fee’ firms offering to act on their behalf.’

What about the hard sell calls from insurance companies offering to settle a claim before the victim has had a chance to undergo a proper medical examination? We have seen many cases where clients have been approached directly by the other motorist’s insurance company seeking to settle quickly with a seemingly enticing offer. 

However, the problem here is that if the accident victim accepts the insurance company’s initial and inevitably low offer, that’s it. Even if medical complications arise further down the line the injured person cannot make any further claim. 

The report continues:

‘The AA said despite the number of collisions on UK roads falling, the number of claims for whiplash injuries continued to rise, with more than 200 claims a day, often for accidents from up to three years ago with injuries mentioned for the first time.

The Association of Chief Police officers said there were 30,000 staged accidents in 2009 committed by ‘sophisticated fraud rings’.

Perhaps we should ask the AA to define ‘often’.

Did the police prosecute any, some or all of these 30,000 fraud cases in 2009? 

Undetected fraud topped £930million a year and added an estimated £39 to the average policy.

Eh? Or as we say in Scotland – whit? How on earth does the AA know the value of ‘undetected fraud’

The Scotish Daily Mail article continues:

”The Association of British Insurers warned that motor premiums would continue to soar unless action was taken to curb the cost of personal injury claims. Well they would, wouldn’t they?

Nick Starling, the ABI’s director of general insurance and health, said: ‘The Government’s recently announced plans to reform civil litigation will go a long way to cutting out unnecessary and disproportionate legal costs and should lead to cheaper motor insurance in the future.’

What he conveniently omitted to say was that Lord Young’s Review – ‘Common Sense Common Safety’ stated clearly that there is no compensation culture.

On page 19 of his report, Lord Young wrote:

‘The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in today’s society is, however, one of perception rather than reality.’

Mr. Starling however ploughs on regardless and is quoted as saying:

‘What we now need is a ban on referral fees – where details of potential personal injury claimants are sold on to solicitors and claims management firms.’

What next Mr. Starling? Would a ban on claims be to your liking?

Perhaps Mr. Starling can tell us who is selling details of potential personal injury claimants to claims management companies in the first place?

 

We will no doubt be dragged kicking and screaming back to this subject, but for now we would just like to make four points in conclusion, by way of redressing the balance and injecting some degree of reality and proportion into the debate.

 

1.

The AA report which was quoted extensively in the Scottish Daily Mail article states that ‘despite the number of collisions on UK roads falling, the number of claims for whiplash injuries continued to rise’, which would lead the reader to conclude that car accident claim fraud is rife.However, the Department of Transport’s official ‘Report on Road Casualities in Great Britain – 2008’ makes the point that the number of road traffic accidents reported to the police is only part of the story.

Whereas approximately 234,000 road traffic accidents were recorded in the official police statistics in 2008, the Department of Transport estimates the total number of road traffic accidents to be in the order of 800,000. The full report can be studied on the Department’s website. 

See section 5 of the report for a comparison of police statistics and other sources, which suggests that the vast majority of road traffic accidents do not result in compensation claims…a finding which is in line with a study of accident claims across the board, undertaken by the CAB, which found that over 65% of accident victims never make a claim.

 

2.

Successful claims for accident compensation rely on something called EVIDENCE.

If there is no evidence and in particular, no medical evidence then there is no claim, period. If there is evidence then there COULD BE a claim, but much detailed work still has to de done by the claimant’s solicitor to determine the strength of the evidence and therefore the strength of the case. If the accident victim is partly to blame then the courts will take contributory negligence into account and assess the award of any damages accordingly.

There is no automatic right to compensation and the insurance companies know this, otherwise why would they bother fighting claims? If compensation was a right and all victims had to do was present a ‘claim ticket’ at a High Street cash point there would hardly be any need for lawyers on either side – the ‘right’ is the right to seek compensation, not get it.  

 

3.

Which brings us neatly on to the role of the insurance company lawyers. Insurance companies pay top dollar to big law firms to defend their clients against accident victims’ claims. This is of course a cost which they of course BLAME on the victim, naturally. The insurance company legal team exist to repudiate and minimise the value of compensation claims and if the claimant hasn’t accepted the insurance company’s ‘low ball ‘ initial offer, they will fight tooth and nail over a long period to drag things out and undermine genuine claimants with the aim of making the claim ‘go away.’

This is of course why firms like Bonnar & Compnay exist. Our job is to help accident victims achieve justice and financial compensation. Incidentally, we carry all the up front costs of litigation so that injured people are never out of pocket and have access to the best possible legal representation at no cost to them, no matter how long it takes to force an insurance company to make a fair offer on a genuine claim.   

NB

Bonnar & Company only ever works on behalf of genuine claimants. The very, very small number of potentially doubtful claims that we come across never, ever see the light of day. It is perhaps worth stating that the major headline grabbing spurious claims for mega compensation resulting from apparently trivial injuries inevitably and almost universally always get kicked out by the courts, if they ever get that far that is. However, don’t expect to read in the papers about the downright ‘daft’ or fraudulent claims that fail – they don’t make good copy.     

 

4.

 Why are insurance companies paying out on fraudulent car accident claims?

ARE THEY REALLY PAYING OUT ON FRAUDULENT CAR ACCIDENT CLAIMS, OR ARE THEY JUST SAYING THAT THEY ARE TO MAKE A POINT?

They can’t have it both ways.

Either they are paying out on fraudulent claims which would be an absolute scandal or they aren’t which means there is no problem with fraudulent claims.

Mmmm. Answer on one side of the paper only please Mr. Starling…