A pilot scheme for a fast-track employers' liability (EL) panel could be in place early next year.

But claimant solicitors have expressed concern that it could increase costs and delay.

The ABI is considering whether a non-adversarial system could be used to resolve EL claims more quickly and cheaply than the current tort system. The panel could comprise independent members that included legal and medical experts.

According to Zurich London chief executive Martin South, it would take an inquisitorial approach and consider the circumstances of the claim, the loss of earnings and other matters to determine an award which could be paid immediately.

Claimants could not be forced to seek adjudication by the panel, as the common law right to sue under the tort system would remain.

The Republic of Ireland government is developing a similar model, the Personal Injury Assessment Board (PIAB).

An ABI spokesman said: "The potential advantages are that claims could be dealt with more quickly and there would be faster access to rehabilitation. It would not be aimed at limiting damages, but at getting people the best treatment and back to work."

He added that the tribunal could also help to address the "anomaly" of high legal costs that dog the current tort system. It is estimated that 40% of claims costs are legal costs.

"The proposal is currently in its embryonic stage. We need to talk to all interested parties, such as solicitors and unions, to look at the practicalities. We will also be looking at the Irish model to see how it works.

"We hope to have a formulation for a pilot project by December."

South said that the insurer would be "taking soundings" to see if there would be interest in piloting such a scheme. "It could help to make EL more affordable. The current system is so tense that relationships have become strained."

But claimant solicitors are concerned that an EL tribunal could introduce a layer of costly bureaucracy.

Association of Personal Injury Lawyers vice president Colin Ettinger said: "There is already a fast-track system that can deal with cases efficiently. When the system doesn't work it is because insurers are sitting on their hands.

"Only 10%-15% of claims actually go to court and those that do, settle soon after. An EL panel would increase delays, costs and complexity, adding another layer of red-tape."

The PIAB has not avoided criticism. Peter Bacon, a consultant commissioned by the Irish Bar Council, argued that the PIAB would not divert claims away from the courts and would increase the level of awards.