Lawyers protesting that their costs are to be slashed are unlikely to generate a wave of sympathy from the public. But what if the outcome of the latest set of Government reforms is to stop injured people getting the justice they deserve? The reality is that if lawyers’ fees are fixed too low, there simply will not be any independent advice available for the injured man on the street. The general public won’t miss the lawyers until they are gone, and they need proper independent legal advice.
When you encounter someone in pain, do you just wince and pass by, glad it isn’t you? Or do you stop and help? The things APIL lawyers do makes life more bearable for injured people – whether it is to get them compensation, rehabilitation, or care. If you are injured, you may need time off work – your income stream may reduce or stop. No-one wants mounting debt on top of an injury.
If you were told that an outcome of the reforms would be to leave injured people on their own to argue with insurance companies for the justice they deserve, you would probably be at best lukewarm about the proposals. Many of you may have had insurance claims in the past – perhaps for damaged vehicles or stolen items – and will know how difficult it is to recover what you are owed. In these situations the claim is easy for you to value – you know the cost of your car, or your stolen TV. But how do you start to value an injury? How can you negotiate with an insurer if you don’t actually know what you are entitled to? Insurers will be quick to offer money to settle the case – how do you know if the figure is even in the right ballpark? We have conducted research which shows that the first offer from an insurer direct to a victim is often a fraction of the settlement gained when a lawyer is involved – many APIL lawyers reported getting settlements for the victim in excess of ten times the original offer. Not surprisingly, our research also showed that only 21 per cent of people would trust an insurer.
Current Government proposals will price many lawyers out of the market in cases worth between £1, 000 and £25,000 in damages. Whilst these claims are referred to as ‘low value’ (in comparison to a catastrophic injury for example) in reality they are anything but low value to the person who has been injured. Few people consider that amount of money small change. For a claim to be worth £25,000 the injuries need to be quite serious, such as a fractured jaw, and it is likely that there has been some loss of income. Should people in such an unfortunate position really be left to fend for themselves? Do not be fooled - slashing lawyer’s costs puts the injured person back in the position of the underdog fighting the big corporation.
The Government hopes that the reduced burden to the insurers for legal costs will bring down motor insurance premiums – a laudable aim when most of us are feeling the pinch. However, the proposals are extreme, and will do more harm than good. The reforms shouldn’t be at the cost of the injured person. There is a balance to be struck here. What’s the point of insurance if the victims who need to make claims are turned away or paid off cheaply? As a society, we often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone, especially if you personally have yet to use it. Don’t be duped – these reforms have an unpalatable dark side.