The Ministry of Justice has published its eagerly anticipated response to the claims process consultation. This has been received with some trepidation by those involved in personal injury claims.
It was thought that the Government would introduce proposals to radically change the claims process given concerns that it is slow and expensive, with costs often outweighing damages received.
However, on reviewing the proposals, it can be argued that the Ministry of Justice seems unlikely to implement such wide-ranging reforms as was first contemplated.
The proposals are as follows:
1. The small claims limit for personal injury claims to remain at £1,000
Welcomed by claimant solicitors, this is essential to ensure that those wishing to pursue a personal injury claim have access to justice and can seek the assistance of a solicitor when bringing claims.
It is important that injured people have independent advice and representation. They should not be in a position where they do not pursue a claim because they do not understand the process, or where they risk under-settling a claim without proper advice on the relevant issues.
2. Fast track limit in all claims increased to £25,000
There are serious concerns that the recommended increase to the fast track limit from £10,000 to £25,000 may result in complex claims falling into an anticipated straightforward system.
An increased limit will affect many personal injury claims resulting in cases being allocated to the fast track when they may be better served by the multi-track. Not only is value a factor in deciding allocation, but complexity should also be high on the agenda.
At present, the proposals do not suggest any procedure for the transfer of such claims from the fast track to multi-track if considered appropriate.
3. A new streamlined procedure for minor road traffic accident claims up to a value of £10,000
A new claims process has been put forward for road traffic accident (RTA) claims valued between £1,000 and £10,000 where there is no dispute on liability or causation and there are no allegations of contributory negligence.
Originally thought to encompass all types of personal injury claims, the proposal is limited to RTA claims. It involves a process for quick notification of claims, early admissions of liability and attempts to reach an early negotiated settlement.
Where there is a failure to adhere to the time frames proposed, the claim exits the process and is likely to continue as claims do at present, resulting in little change to the current system.
This has to be a real possibility given the delays often experienced in obtaining a response on the issue of liability within the current protocol period.
4. Fixed recoverable costs in the new RTA claims process
There is no indication of the level at which these costs will be set, but it is hoped that this recommendation will avoid the arguments over excessive and unnecessary costs. However, the experience of claimant solicitors with the current system of fixed costs demonstrates that this has not prevented insurers arguing over the level of costs, resulting in further delays.
The new proposals do leave a number of questions unanswered about how they will work in practice. The next stage is for The Civil Procedure Rule Committee to consider draft rules, practice directions and pre-action protocols which will be required to implement the new process.
It is unclear how long this will take but there are assurances that the Government will continue to work closely with contributors to ensure all opinions are taken into account before reaching a conclusion.
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