Liverpool Law Society – April 2020
The coronavirus is obviously affecting every walk of life, and the handling of RTA/PI claims is no exception. The virus is causing severe disruption to the claims process with delays and confusion amongst accident victims pursuing a claim. One of MASS’s fundamental principles is to represent the interests of all road traffic accident victims. It is this principle that has led to some concerns about the claims handling protocols that have been developed in the sector. One was agreed earlier this month between Thompsons and the ABI, backed by FOIL and APIL. More recently the other has been developed by ACSO with the ABI on the video conferencing of non-MedCo medical examinations.
We are acutely aware of the need for prompt action to ensure that claims are not unnecessarily delayed and both protocols are laudable attempts at getting claims moving with cross-industry agreement. They will no doubt benefit many claimants – but not all. Not being universal, and, by definition, being voluntary and so self-regulated, it is for these reasons that we have not been able to endorse either protocol but to leave the decision to individual member companies.
We feel that it is primarily the responsibility of MoJ and CPRC to ensure that the legal process adapts quickly and effectively to the changed world brought about by the coronavirus. They should be making the necessary amendments to the rules and ensuring that all parties are bound by it. As with any voluntary scheme it is possible that individual companies, and no doubt claims handlers, will interpret the terms of the protocols differently. Given that no membership organisation, including the ABI, represents all participants in their sector, there will inevitably be gaps. Our view is that no claimant should be disadvantaged during this unprecedented situation, regardless of whether their insurer or legal firm has signed up to one protocol or another.
Although resistant to getting involved directly, we have continued to press the Ministry of Justice and CPRC to make the necessary changes to ensure that all claimants are protected. We are also keen to emphasise that such changes should only be temporary and should be rescinded when normal life resumes, whenever that may be. We would not wish, for instance, the conducting of medical examinations digitally to become a permanent feature of the claims process believing this is far inferior to a physical examination. On the issue of remote rehabilitation, for instance, we anticipate possible disputes over the fees that will be paid by insurers’, which will certainly not be helpful to anyone. We shall continue to press that the claims process should be adapted accordingly to ensure that no accident victim is disadvantaged in any way during this very difficult time.
The other significant development in the last few weeks was obviously MoJ’s sensible decision to delay the implementation of the Civil Liability Act and the associated whiplash reforms until April 2021 next year. This was clearly the right decision given the bigger issues with which we are all contending. Businesses are struggling to adapt to the new normal with reduced income, remote working and a range of other challenges. None of us know right now when ‘normal’ life and business will resume and the last thing that claimants and the sector needed right now was the introduction of a massively controversial and highly disruptive new claims process. Even with the grim consequences of this crisis emerging every day around us, this delay must not be wasted, but must be used to resolve the very many outstanding issues with implementation of the reforms. When we think it is appropriate to do so, we shall continue engaging with MoJ, MIB, CPRC, the Justice Select Committee, the Opposition and a range of other stakeholders to highlight the many problems with the envisaged new claims process and seek to find workable solutions that will mitigate the impact upon claimants and the sector.
We cannot yet see the end of this crisis and many of the longer term consequences have yet to be played out, but for those of us involved in legal and public policy, there is still a great deal to do on behalf of our members and all claimants.
Paul Nicholls, author of “RTA claims under the coronavirus pandemic – April 2020” is Chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) and Senior Partner at Nicholls Brimble Bhol