There have been “clear changes in behaviour” on the part of claimant personal injury lawyers since the reduction in the RTA portal fee, with a focus on litigating, a leading defendant firm has said.
Keoghs said there had been a “sudden and marked deterioration” in the quality of claim notification forms (CNFs), and offers from claimant lawyers to accept nominal amounts of contributory negligence.
An increased refusal to accept telephone calls and discuss cases, and a growth in cases reaching stage 3 of the process have also become evident.
Steve Thomas, director of market affairs at Keoghs, said: “A claimant lawyer may argue that now they are on £500 a claim, they have little time to complete the CNF fully. A cynic may read that as giving the insurer as little information as possible in the hope that the claim will then exit the portal in the absence of a liability decision.”
There was a similar motivation when it came to contributory negligence, he suggested: “Have claimant lawyers suddenly developed a conscience over their client’s potential culpability or is this just another device to try and exit claims from the portal and into a more favourable costs regime?”
Having a discussion with claimants firms “has been a challenge now for several years”, Mr Thomas said, “but in the last two months there has been a decline in claimant law firms willing to take phone calls from insurers”.
On stage 3 volumes, he said claimant solicitors are working on the basis that with the Judicial College uplift in pain, suffering and loss of amenity last September, allied to the Simmons & Castle uplift, “they may be more successful at stage 3 as judges move to reflect those changes”.
Mr Thomas said: “Discussions with claimant lawyers also confirm that a clear objective is now to litigate whenever possible so as to boost fees. Whilst it is an opportunity that they have rarely missed in the past, [we] anticipate a new focus and emphasis on litigation. As the catch phrase of one of the sessions at the recent APIL conference said, ‘Don’t procrastinate – just litigate!’.”
He said he had been taken aback by just how many cases claimant solicitors managed to get underway before 1 April: the portal received 91,235 CNFs in March, 32% than the same month in 2012 and the highest number ever in a single month.
“A concern for insurers will be to what extent this represents ‘accelerated receipt’ of claims that they would have been notified of anyway, and to what extent are many of these ‘new claims’ brought about by aggressive farming,” Mr Thomas said. “Evidence we have seen suggests that the average lag time between accident date and notification date within this surge, is greater than usual – which supports a strong element of claims farming.
“A potential corollary of that fact is then a concern as to how many of these additional cases may be spurious and require detailed analysis at a time when claims teams are hard pressed.”