The ABI wants to overhaul the personal injury claims system to slash legal costs but, as Andrew Holt discovered, the InterResolve company is a step ahead

The ABI's proposals to overhaul the personal injury claims process created much industry debate when it was launched last year, but it has one big supporter. While lawyers and the TUC took umbrage at what they saw as removing lawyers from the injury claims process, claims resolution specialists InterResolve already embodies the principles set down by the ABI.

Similar to the ABI's desire to take huge, costly legal chunks out of the claims process, InterResolve has a tried and tested system to eliminate these costs.

This is InterResolve's Bodily Injury Claims Scheme (BICS) launched earlier this year, which provides claimants with access to independent legal advice on personal injury claims without the need to retain law firms. The company claims it can reduce legal costs between 30% and 80% depending on the case.

The objective is to tackle industry-wide problems, as well as individual disputes. "Our strength is in our independence and neutrality," says Peter Ashdown-Barr, chief executive of InterResolve. "We can operate between several parties as a neutral analyst and mediator, testing facts and data and helping to resolve issues in a structured way at vastly reduced cost."

Set up and operated by a group of sector specialists, lawyers and mediators, InterResolve promises to cut across all aspects of the claims process scenario, by satisfying the requirement of each of the players and creating a collaborative approach rather than an adversarial one.

It takes the view that the claimant needs fewer days and frustrations in dealing with the claim, and better and earlier care and rehabilitation when necessary. While the insurers want a better process without excessive and disproportionate costs, and lawyers - and here is the interesting point - should be able to advise claimants without excessive client formalities and cost disputes.

So, while it can reduce the costs of claims by 30% to 80%, it has also created a non-litigation system, where care and rehabilitation come first. The InterResolve motto is that lawyers act as advisers first, litigators last.

Legal advice is provided by members of LawAlliance, the new UK-wide claimant lawyer network, and made available to claimants at the beginning of the claims process to identify whether early settlement can be achieved

InterResolve has two processes: one for smaller claims, the other for more complex claims cases. In route one, rehab is undertaken with a medical prognosis and then legal opinions are embarked upon. These are typically claims of up to £10,000 and the total costs range between £700 and £900.

Route two offers contracted representation, fixed costs and it is agreed that an early notification, early rehabilitation, and a built-in, pre-action mediation package are embarked upon. More complex cases can last up to nine months. These are claims above £10,000 and the total costs range between £2,000 and £2,500.

There are no case referral fees to fund, including that of legal and medical fees, and to achieve the earliest settlement is the objective in all cases.

The business recently added a range of arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services to its BICS, provided by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators' ADR service provider arm, DRS-CIArb, and mediation specialists ADR Group.

DRS-CIArb will incorporate its Resolving all Personal Injury Disputes service as part of the InterResolve Scheme. These services complement the work of InterResolve. Ashdown-Barr says: "The addition of such cutting-edge services gives greater breadth and depth to the InterResolve Scheme and will maximise earlier settlements for claimants and cost-savings for insurers compared to the existing claims system."

And since launching its bodily injury claims scheme, the response has been good from all stakeholders. "We have had positive responses from insurers, lawyers, government and the ABI," says Ashdown-Barr.

Greater unity and joined up thinking is clearly needed in personal injury claims. Which is why the ABI put its head above the parapet with the launch of its Care and Compensation plans, even though undertaking such a move would prove controversial.

But it is clear that the likes of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers are still not fully willing to play ball. "All those involved in the personal injury claims process should welcome the shifts towards the process we are seeing. The ABI takes a neutral view and its initiatives are to be welcomed," says Ashdown-Barr.

There is no doubt InterResolve is part of a wider acceptance of the need to deal with the problematic injury claims process. It comes at a time when Royal & SunAlliance is piloting a scheme focused on capturing injury claimants pre-lawyer.

But Ashdown-Barr warns: "The insurance industry must avoid a partisan approach. Individual insurer schemes are okay, but they will not help to tackle the real issues - namely an existing legal system which carries huge unnecessary costs with claims farmers increasing costs even further."

A cross-industry approach will achieve change far more effectively. And Ashdown-Barr says the way forward is collaboration. "What is needed is something that all insurers with a common interest, whatever size, can operate as a single non-court process and share the benefits."

The message being, InterResolve is just the company to fill this void. IT