The government's reform plans are welcome, says Joe Pendle. But it should have thought more about the milestones along the way – and about the role of technology.
Although the latest Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reforms highlight many of the problems with personal injury claims, they lack any definition of how to implement changes to the system. Most importantly, the department’s report gives no recognition to the key role of technology in enforcing time frames in standardising claims.
While it does suggest the introduction of fixed-time periods and fixed recoverable costs to promote early admission of liability and early settlements, it does not put forward many specific steps to help achieve these objectives.
No sanctions for non-compliance have been set, although the government has made it clear that no extensions will be granted beyond the 15 days insurers have to decide on liability. There also are no time constraints and penalties imposed upon solicitors; so all delays in the process will not be addressed.
Parties involved in personal injury claims welcome the proposals, but say they do not consider the milestones within the life cycle of a claim with enough care.
ISO analysis has found that the most important milestone in most whiplash or soft tissue claims is the time taken to procure the medical evidence.
A significant number of claimants are not examined until six months or more after the accident, which highlights the need to prescribe time limits for the production and delivery of medical reports.
We believe the claimant’s interests are best served if the medical evidence is obtained as soon as possible which, for most motor claims, is estimated to be about three months from the accident date. In some cases a later report would provide a more accurate assessment of the claimant’s condition, but most cases are best dealt with early.
The reform proposals imply that insurers will be given penalties for missing time limits, but they are not the only people who may be involved in the process — the role of solicitors needs to be taken into account too.
The report rightfully highlights the discrepancies that often exist between solicitors’ and insurers’ valuation of claims. This is another major cause of delay, as solicitors tend to value cases based on reported decisions, court awards, and Judicial Studies Board guidelines, while insurers base them on their previous settlements, and don’t generally take into account cases that have gone to trial.
This leads to difficulties with cases that have multiple injuries and cases in which the prognostic information is ambiguous or missing altogether. A personal injury claims assessment system calibrated to market settlement norms, including court awards, can bring these two conflicting assessments closer together and dramatically speed up the settlement process, especially in lower-value claims.
Although the MoJ has stopped short of recommending the use of technology, it is something that must be considered to standardise and share information and make the claims process more efficient.
Claims-handling solutions have a major part to play in reducing the life cycle of claims by providing electronic notification of claims from solicitors, insurers and medical practitioners, and by enabling solicitors and insurers to reach agreement on fair claims valuations quickly and efficiently.
Joe Pendle is director of client services at ISO.