Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Make the lie big...

Last week 'justice' minister Lord Faulks beamed down again from his remote planet and landed in the midst of the annual personal injury lawyers’ (APIL) conference with more on the latest pestilence for innocent victims.

Faulks has something of a penchant for the political burlesque having been the man who last year described litigation as an Optional activity whilst he pushed 660% increases in court fees through the House of Lords.

Our ermine-clad hero is now championing the biggest kick in the groin for (already) injured people that we’ll have ever seen if it becomes law. This is the twin proposal from the delightful George Osborne to abolish compensation for whiplash injuries and raise the small claims limit to £5,000.

Faulks needs to beam up again and stay there because this is more of the callous behaviour that ultimately even IDS could stomach no more. It’s a shocking proposal. They are now talking about ‘unnecessary’ claims.

As John Hyde commented last week, “Once damages for any injury are deemed to be unnecessary, something fundamental has changed. Simply targeting fraud clearly wasn’t profitable enough for the insurance lobby – now they’re coming after the genuinely injured too.

Whiplash has been in insurers’ sights for a long time. They like to tell the world that it’s some sort of fabrication, that’s it’s all in the mind or just plain fraud.

It isn’t. Whiplash is real. It’s debilitating. It’s horrible for those who have suffered it. I wrote about one of the more extreme cases I dealt with in Whiplash backlash. That guy was absolutely genuine and deserved substantial compensation for the dreadful effects of his injuries.

The government wants not only to sweep away whiplash claims but also to prevent injured people from effectively pursuing claims for compensation in respect of other injuries where the value is less than £5,000. This would remove the majority in number of accident claims from the normal costs rules in the county court.

The result is in most cases to make it unworkable for accident victims to instruct lawyers and leave them to battle experienced and skilled insurance company claims managers and their lawyers unassisted.

This has been on the agenda for a long time. It doesn’t become any more attractive, as time passes, for those people to whom Five grand is a substantial sum of money. That doesn’t include Faulks, Osborne, Cameron or any of the leading figures in the rapacious world of liability insurance.

But why? How can a government do this? Surely even as desperate and unscrupulous a bunch as we have at the helm presently needs some apparent justification for what are undeniably harsh steps where injured people are concerned and compensation claims are far from ‘unnecessary’.

It’s all down to the data fed to the government by the insurance industry. Some of it was openly discussed in the deeply shameful (and very under-publicised) performance of a few of the top boys in a parliamentary sub-committee grilling just under three years ago – read Hey diddle diddle.. for the ugly detail

The insurance industry has consistently alarmed us with reports that 7% or more of claims are fraudulent (see Hey diddle diddle again). Some may say that’s too high yet still not horrifying but the statistic is false in any event. 

The Association of British Insurers’ own data demonstrates that as little as 0.25% of injury claims are proved to be fraudulent. See Insurance industry ‘smokescreen’ will impact on injured motoristsSolicitors Journal 18 April.

As the incoming President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Neil Sugarman, has said, “Vulnerable people are being targeted in a game of numbers”.

It’s not much of a game either because one side plays by the rules and the other doesn’t. Claimant solicitors observe professional ethics and codes of conduct. Insurance companies?  Well, how about...

How bad does it get? Tampering with the evidence of complaints before submitting to the regulator investigating them. It’s amoral and corrupt.

Direct Lying and the Bull***t Hound were fined just over £2 million for this appalling behaviour. That hardly grabbed a headline. A blip in the accounts. No individual careers ruined. Imagine if that were a solicitor – one of those “ambulance chasing fat cats”?

Look – this is all very well, you may say, but if there is fraud costing the country billions of pounds then something has to be done. That’s what insurers are saying.

But here’s the deal (raw). Whiplash claims – including the painful, debilitating, costly and perfectly genuine ones – will go. On insurers own stats, those genuine claims will be the overwhelming majority.

Claims worth less than a mere (!) £5,000 - including the painful, debilitating, costly and perfectly genuine ones – will lose the assistance of lawyers. On insurers own stats, those genuine claims will be the overwhelming majority.

On any analysis this is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Worse than that, it is founded on grossly exaggerated claims by the insurance industry.

9%? Or was that 0.25%? Hmmm.

Remember that entire nations make very bad democratic decisions from time to time. 80 odd years ago, Germany put its trust in a man who said "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it".