Rules against settlement before medical report

Part of Civil Liability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 11 Medi 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Justice) 11:00, 11 Medi 2018

The amendments would ensure that any medical evidence of a whiplash injury must in all cases be provided by a person registered on the MedCo portal website. The Government say in clause 6 that cases should never be settled until the claimant has been medically examined. We fully agree, but amendments 19 to 21 would go even further. The Government say that the Lord Chancellor can decide what constitutes appropriate evidence, but it is very simple. The only form of appropriate evidence must come from a proper doctor registered as such on the portal website of MedCo, the umbrella organisation through which doctors in all personal injury cases are currently chosen. Why on earth would the Government not go through the currently accepted route for all other personal injury cases and the same process that insurers accept in every other case? The only people to gain from offers without a medical are defendant insurers who get cases off their books at an undervalue.

Lawyers for the claimant are obliged to put any offer to the client. Reputable lawyers will always advise against acceptance until there is a medical, but some clients are desperate and reject their advice. Unsurprisingly, and heartbreakingly, it tends to happen when a client’s sick pay runs out or perhaps near Christmas when people have been off sick and are desperate. Any downgrading of the requirement for a medical certificate by a medical registered doctor—this is the risk without the amendments —is just another way that vulnerable workers who have to take time off because of their injuries could be harmed by insurers who make record profits.

We suspect that the vagueness about what qualifies as proper medical advice might be an attempt to allow the use of physiotherapists for the evidence. Insurers have long pushed for that. Physiotherapists are great people doing wonderful work in an extremely important part of post-accident rehabilitation, but they are not doctors and are not able to assess and provide a long-term prognosis.

We fear that if we do not specify in the Bill who should provide the medical reports we will have injured people being prescribed a couple of sessions of physiotherapy and then being described by the insurers as malingering when they are not back to full health following the limited treatment, when in reality their condition might require far more intense rehabilitation efforts over a longer period. In some cases, the insurers might see a financial gain to employing a physiotherapist or owning a rehabilitation company. Without the amendments, that would suggest the insurers control not only the payment of damages, but the medical process leading to the award. Let us avoid that conflict. Let us trust doctors and specify where a medical report should come from. Any deviation from the gold standard of a medical doctor would negate the good that is done by effectively banning the settlement of whiplash claims without medical evidence, as this part of the Bill attempts to do.

On new clause 3, the Government say that the cases they intend to sweep into the small claims track are minor, straightforward and simple. We do not think that that is so, or that the injured claimant left on their own to fight insurance companies—let us be in no doubt that insurers will fight—will think that their cases are either small or simple. The new clause would ensure that, at the very least, when the injured person gets a medical report, as the Government in clause 6 rightly say they should, they can get independent legal advice on what the report means in terms of the value of their claim, so that, if they remain fighting on their own, they settle at an appropriate sum. How else would they know what their case is worth?

The Government might say that insurers will not rip people off and that they always pay what is fair. If that is the case, they have nothing to fear in ensuring that the injured get advice paid for that reassures them that that is the case. There is a societal benefit. If people settle at an undervalue or their conditions are not properly recognised, they will fall back on the state—the NHS or the benefits system—and the taxpayer will foot the bill that should properly have been met by the negligent party. The polluter will end up not paying and we will all pay through our taxes.

The same principle applies to cases where the insurers do not admit liability. The Government think that, when a claimant chooses to fight a case, the injured person will have the confidence to fight on. Facing a denial of liability, the claimant will, the Government think, be equipped to fight on, but, without help, we do not think they will be.

We therefore propose—this effectively happens now in a fast track case, where the defendant fights on liability and the case falls out of the fast track—that the claimant should get help to fight on. The costs will be fixed, as they are now in the fast track, but at least the claimant will have someone to hold their hand who is on their side. Perhaps the Government think that injured people, possibly claiming sums that exceed their monthly pay cheque, should be left on their own, assess quantum on their own and fight well-funded insurers on their own.