Litigation Futures, Neil Rose, 8th October 2015
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) must take action against law firms which are taking on claims generated by cold calls, the chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society said today.
Susan Brown also urged medical reporting organisations (MROs) and others to stop trying to “beat the system” in how they are using the MedCo.
Addressing the society’s annual conference in Manchester, she expressed concern that the government-commissioned review of claims management companies “will lead to the worst excesses – unsolicited phone calls, texts and emails – being stopped”.
She continued: “Undoubtedly some of the calls originate from overseas and will be difficult to eradicate. But more needs to be done to prevent personal details being sold to these organisations. Existing data protection legislation must be enforced and better policed.
There should be an extension of the ban on unsolicited texts and cold calls by all in the industry. If considered necessary, we need to increase penalties and sanctions and have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy across the board.
Solicitors are not allowed to take on claims generated by cold calls – but clearly some are. The SRA should and must be taking robust action when solicitors are found to be engaging in such behaviour. There must also be improved liaison and co-ordinated action between all the relevant regulators on cold-calling.”
At the same time, she said she did not “entirely believe” that many people were persuaded to bring a fraudulent claim just because they received 50 nuisance calls. “But the nuisance calls are certainly a factor in bringing the personal injury business into disrepute.”
On MedCo, the solicitor said it will have an impact “if it is given a chance to work, and, alongside other measures to drive fraudsters and opportunistic claimants out of the system, has the potential to deliver an improved system for both insurers and injured claimants.
MedCo may be far from perfect at the moment, but it is in everyone’s interests to make it work, and we hope that the ongoing MoJ review will result in beneficial changes.
But I must say this. MROs and others must stop trying to ‘beat the system’ and stack searches in their favour. The alternatives to MedCo could be far worse for everyone in the claimant sector.”
Ms Brown told delegates that a return to “a fairer system where injured claimants receive full compensation” is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.
“It simply is not feasible to handle fast-track claims properly within the fixed costs regime, without deducting success fees from our clients’ damages,” she argued.
She urged members “to be very careful to ensure that when trying to improve efficiency to enable us to work within the very tight margins we now have, we do not do so at the expense of client care”.
Ms Brown added: “We are learning to live with the fast-track fixed fee regime. But we need to press for a mechanism for regular review of the levels of costs, to ensure that all claimants continue to receive full access to justice.
Law firms cannot be expected to run claims at a loss, and it cannot simply be assumed that no matter how low the costs are, there will always be someone willing to deal with the claim. Or if there is, that that someone will be competent and independent.”
She also turned her fire on insurers, arguing that “if there is a misconceived perception that a whiplash claim is in some way ‘easy money’, the major driver of that perception over the past decade or so has been the practice of some insurers of making pre-medical offers”.