Personal injury firms should temporarily agree to accept service by email and freeze limitation periods, according to guidance issued to claimant and defendant lawyers today on the conduct of claims during the Covid-19 crisis.
The agreed set of “standard practices” has been issued jointly by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL).
The emphasis is on communication between the two sides and extending time periods by consent.
It said service by email was “in the best interests of your clients and the effective conduct of claims”; where a firm declines, “the best course is likely to be to serve in any event, having made application for an order under part 6.15(1)”.
If limitation becomes an urgent issue, the guidance said parties should enter a standstill agreement to extend the limitation period, or issue and serve the claim form while asking the defendant to agree an extension of time for medical evidence or, if they will not so do, seek an order from the court.
The agreement goes alongside the protocol unveiled last week by leading claimant firm Thompsons and the Association of British Insurers aimed at cutting out opportunistic tactics by either claimants or defendants in PI cases and agreeing to freeze limitation periods.
At the time of writing, 19 insurers (including the Motor Insurers Bureau) and 168 law firms have signed up to it.
The APIL/FOIL guidance recognised that both parties would likely face challenges complying with existing court directions and timetables.
It cited Master Davison’s decision last month to displace the normal rule that parties can only agree up to 28-day extensions of time, saying they could agree extensions for up to 56 days by consent without further order from the court in light of Covid-19.
“We recommend that practitioners invite parties to take a consensual approach to considering requests for the extensions and respond similarly to requests made by their counterparts.”
It also urged parties to adopt a “reasonable approach” to requests for interim payments. “In the current climate, interim payments are likely to be of vital importance, and any unnecessary applications to the court ought to be avoided.”
The guidance recommended that parties exchange their costs budgets if possible.
There is already guidance from the courts on remote hearings, while MedCo has lifted its ban on remote medical examinations.
APIL president Gordon Dalyell said: “These are unprecedented times and both APIL and FOIL want to ensure that cases run smoothly across the UK so far as possible.
“Our members told us their concerns about remote working and how they might adapt to the new way in which the courts are operating. Defendants are also going to have their own difficulties.
“Both organisations feel it is important to do what they can to help to resolve these issues together.
“This is not the first time APIL and FOIL have supported a collaborative approach, not least through the Serious Injury Guide, and we urge that members consider and adopt these best practices where possible.”
His FOIL counterpart, Anthony Baker, added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has adversely impacted injured parties, insurers, FOIL members, and the claimant legal sector.
“However, during such difficult times it is testament to the collaborative nature of both sides of the industry that FOIL and APIL can work closely together to agree a best practice guidance document.
“Following this joint guidance where possible will be of benefit to all and hopefully ensure that we can navigate these choppy waters with understanding and cooperation at the forefront of what we do.”
Meanwhile, MedCo has announced that, “to assist the financial impact during the current crisis”, it has suspended the payment of annual registration fees medical agencies and experts from 6 April to 6 July.
It will consider refunds to those who have already paid upon request.