The Ministry of Justice has asked the Civil Justice Council (CJC) to investigate the number and cost of claims for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), it has announced.
There has been a concerted lobbying effort from the insurance industry to raise the issue, describing deafness claims as “the new whiplash” and as a “cash cow” for claimant lawyers.
A spokesman for the ministry said: “In response to ongoing concern about the number and cost of noise-induced hearing loss claims, we have asked the Civil Justice Council to consider the issue and to make recommendations.
“This builds on the recent substantial civil justice reforms designed to control costs and discourage unnecessary litigation while allowing access to justice for meritorious cases.”
According to figures published last month by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), NIHL claims notified to insurers increased by 189% between 2011 and 2014. It said that since 2012, more than 200,000 claims for NIHL have been submitted but less than a fifth have been eligible for compensation, “mainly due to the poor quality of evidence provided because the claimant’s hearing loss cannot be linked to the workplace. The flood of claims is slowing down the time it takes to get compensation to genuine claimants”.
The ABI, which has called for fixed costs in NIHL cases, argued that “excessive legal costs” meant that on average for every £1 paid in compensation to the successful claimant, £3 is paid out in legal costs to the claimant’s lawyers.
James Dalton, the ABI’s director of general insurance policy, said: “Today’s announcement by the Ministry of Justice is a positive development. The skyrocketing number and cost of industrial deafness claims is a significant issue that the insurance industry has highlighted for some time…
“The insurance industry looks forward to working with the CJC to develop a practical and deliverable framework that seeks to make legal fees more proportionate and ensure that genuine claimants receive fair compensation in a timely and efficient manner.”
Jonathan Wheeler, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “We hope the CJC considers the amount of work involved for claimant lawyers to get these complex cases off the ground, and the importance of ensuring that the ability to perform that work on behalf of claimants is not restricted.
“Above all, any reforms must not compromise the rights of workers to investigate whether their former employers are responsible for their hearing loss. Members have suggested in the past that with multiple defendants often involved, co-operation from defendants is the key to a faster and more cost-effective process.”
Meanwhile, the CJC has set up a working group on property disputes chaired by Siobhan McGrath, president of the property chamber of the First-tier Tribunal, to explore further specific areas where the deployment of judges between the county court and tribunals would enable the proportionate resolution of disputes and the better use of judicial and administrative resources.