The date has been set for key Court of Appeal hearings which could cost the insurance industry up to £700 million.

The appeals, including one for workplace stress and two for disease, are due to be heard on February 28. They are expected to decide whether compensation limits for serious injuries should be increased above current levels.

This follows last April's Law Commission report, which recommended that where claimants are awarded damages of more than £3,000 for serious personal injuries, that figure should be increased by between 50% and 100 %.

Below that, it recommended damages should have "tapered" increases of less than 50%.

These proposals are not binding on courts but they are influencing some judges and solicitors of claimants, say insurance lawyers.

Martin Bruffels of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers, said: "Judges have already started throwing up higher figures. If these cases follow the Law Commission recommendations, it's going to cost us a great deal of money. At least £500m to £700m will be added to claims costs."

This is because around 40,000 claims are being delayed pending the outcome of the appeals.

Joe McManus of solicitors Hextall Erskine believes the cases will go to the House of Lords for a ruling.