My four month old son likes to ensure that I am up early on Saturday mornings. A couple of weeks back I turned on the TV to face a BBC news story with the tagline “law to stop whiplash lawyers offering cash inducements for claims”. As a personal injury lawyer, I cover my son’s ears and steel myself for another bashing. The story concerns the Government response to the Whiplash consultation (Reducing the number and costs of whiplash claims).
The response details a number of proposed law changes to regulate whiplash claims. This news story focuses solely on the plan to ban cash inducements to encourage injured motorists to bring personal injury cases. The theme is that this needs to happen so insurance companies can stop fraudulent cases and as a result reduce premiums.
A pre-recorded report is aired first detailing the practice of personal injury firms offering cash payments upfront to clients who have been injured in road traffic accidents. The cash inducements are said to range from up to £500 to £2000. Some firms offer gifts, such as iPads or shopping vouchers to get potential clients through the door.
Unfortunately the report panders to the stereotypical view of compensation claims. Various statements are made that efforts are being made to stop the “backhanders” in the industry. It is not made clear by the report, but I assume this refers to the ban on referral fees in April 2013. What is not pointed out is that one of the biggest recipients of referral fees were the insurance companies themselves! The theme of the report is what I would expect from a right wing tabloid.
The reality is that cash or gift inducements for personal injury claim are not widespread within the industry and it is only a minority of firms that offer them. I agree that the practice is distasteful and tacky. I think most claimant personal injury lawyers would agree that the practice should be stopped. I only want to be instructed by a client because of my knowledge and expertise, not because I have given them cash or gifts. I have no issue with the practice being stopped; it helps detractors promote a negative image of industry.
There is definitely a swell in negative public opinion regarding the personal injury industry. It is not helped by the practices outlined above but also I believe the public are tired of constant TV advertising and cold callers telling them they have claims whether they have been involved in an accident or not. Whether it is Andrew Castle singing “I can’t fight this feeling anymore” or Joe Pasquale as a plasticine dog, I think the public have had enough.