piBlawg

the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

Government Whiplash Reforms - On Hold?

The Law Society Gazette is reporting that the Justice Secretary is not intending to proceed with the personal injury reforms set out in last year’s Autumn Statement “at the moment”. We blogged on those proposals at the time here which, as a reminder, were that the small claims track limit should be raised to £5,000 and the removal of the right to general damages for minor soft tissue injuries. Apparently the MOJ has stressed that it is still committed to tackling the high cost of whiplash claims. The Gazette reports that fresh proposals are in the works and could be introduced by the end of the year. It seems the original proposals came very much from the Treasury rather than the MOJ so it will be interesting to see what the MOJ’s solution is. Hopefully they will find a formula which will satisfy everyone by effectively tackling fraud while maintaining access to justice. As ever, watch this space for updates.

Fighting fraud

Judgment in the case of Da Costa v Sargaco [2016] EWCA Civ 764 was handed down last week and represents the latest round of the struggle between claimants bringing claims for injury or damage arising out of road traffic accidents and defendant insurers alleging that claims are fraudulent. The case deals with the cogency of evidence required to establish an allegation of fraud, with the inferences which can be drawn from evidence and with the exclusion of a claimant from court whilst the other is giving evidence. The facts of the case conform to a familiar pattern: a claim for losses arising out of damage to mopeds brought by members of a certain community in London. The claimants’ case was that their parked mopeds were struck by a vehicle, the driver of which had apparently disappeared or at least had not participated in proceedings*. One of the claimants had had three other accidents despite having only arrived in the country in 2010. One of the claimant’s mopeds was involved in another accident etc… The judge ordered each claimant be excluded from court whilst the other gave evidence. She subsequently found that the claimants had not proved their case, she went further and made a finding of fraud and she found they had failed to establish their claim for damages. The judge’s decision was challenged on the ground that the case of Hussain v Hussain and Aviva [2012] EWCA Civ 1367 established “the parameters of appropriate inferences that can be drawn in a case where fraud is alleged, but there is no direct evidence connecting parties alleged to be in a fraudulent conspiracy.” Black L.J. found that “what inferences are appropriate depends entirely on the particular facts of the particular case” and dismissed this ground of appeal. The Court of Appeal was not willing to interfere with the judge’s finding that the claimant’s cases were not proven illustrating the mountain appellants have to climb to overturn a judgment on this basis. Black L.J. spelt out that a finding of fraud does not inevitably follow from a rejection of an accident claim as not proved. She went on to find that the judge did not make sufficient findings or provide sufficient reasoning to substantiate the fraud finding she made against the claimants – that finding was set aside. The judge’s decision was also challenged on the basis that one of the claimants had been excluded whilst the other gave evidence. The Court of Appeal held that there was not an absolute requirement that claimants had the opportunity to be present personally throughout the entirety of the hearing. It gave the example of a litigant who disrupts the hearing by unruly behaviour and may have to be excluded to allow progress to be made. The starting point is that claimants are entitled to be present throughout trial. Black L.J. said that she found it extremely difficult to contemplate there being any sufficient reason for taking excluding one claimant from hearing the evidence of the other in a case such as that of Da Costa. However she did not find that the claimant’s exclusion was automatically fatal to the whole trial. Both claimants were represented by the same counsel, no application was made at the end of cross examination to take instructions from the absent claimant and counsel for the claimant was unable to point to any part of the transcript where things would or might have been different had the claimant been in court during the second claimant’s evidence. The court therefore found that the trial had not been rendered unfair and therefore this ground of appeal failed. The normal incentive to seek a finding of fraud is that it leads into a finding of fundamental dishonesty and the disapplication of qualified one-way costs shifting. This case did not include a claim for personal injury and therefore QOCS did not apply. The defendant did not therefore need a finding of fraud to win or fundamental dishonesty to get its costs. Defendants may therefore want to discourage a judge from going further than he or she needs to in order to dismiss a case. Claimants will want to impress on a judge the requirement for “sufficient findings” and “sufficient reasoning to substantiate” any fraud finding. The cogency of the evidence required makes it difficult for defendants who harbour plenty of understandable suspicions but lack the hard evidence to get a finding of fraud or fundamental dishonesty. As to the finding about excluding claimants from hearing evidence of other claimants, the position is now clear in cases of this sort. What is not so clear is what stance a court can take about the exclusion of witnesses who are not claimants – that is a point which still needs to be argued.   *Black L.J. says that the driver was "untraced" but he was named as the First Defendant and one of the allegations was that he used the same address as the claimants. I assume therefore she was not using the word in its technical sense and meant that noone knew of his whereabouts. I am grateful to Steven Templeton for pointing out that it was not the case that Mr Sargaco was "untraced".

Autumn Statement for PI Lawyers

The government has released a summary of the Autumn Statement with 20 Key Announcements, the last of which will be of great interest to personal injury lawyers. It reads as follows: “20. People will no longer be able to get cash compensation for minor whiplash claims To make it harder for people to claim compensation for exaggerated or fraudulent whiplash claims, the government is ending the right to cash compensation. More injuries will also be able to go to the small claims court as the upper limit for these claims will be increased from £1,000 to £5,000. This means that annual insurance costs for drivers could fall by between £40 to £50 a year.” George Osbourne anticipates these changes “will remove over £1bn from the cost of providing motor insurance” and expects insurers to pass on that saving to consumers. There had already been speculation over the last week that the government was going to introduce its previously shelved plan to increase the small claims limit for personal injury claims when the insurance fraud taskforce reported next month. What is surprising though is the reference to “ending the right to cash compensation”. It is as yet unclear what it meant by this. Footnote 55 to the Autumn Statement gives some clarification by explaining that “Claimants will still be entitled to claim for ‘special damages’ (including treatment for any injury if required and any loss of earnings) but entitlements for general damages will be removed.” It will be interesting to see though how it will be decided that a case falls into the category in which there is no entitlement to general damages. Elsewhere in the Autumn Statement is a statement that the government will reduce the excessive costs to insurers of whiplash claims by “removing the right to general damages for minor soft tissue injuries”. This would seem to cover more than just whiplash injuries. There may also be interesting arguments where multiple injuries are involved. These problems are unlikely to be straightforward and may result in substantial argument, inevitably using court time. It seems likely we will have to wait for the report of the insurance fraud taskforce, due before the end of the year, for further details.  Keen readers who can’t wait until then might be interested in the research briefing published in advance of last Wednesday’s debate in Parliament. Otherwise, watch this space!

Are there discernable trends in the RTA claims sector?

How effective have recent reforms been in reducing the number of road traffic injury claims and their associated costs? The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries reports there has been a slight rise in claims by 1.7% between 2013 and 2014 which is less than suggested by the portal where claims notifications are back to pre-LASPO* levels. Average costs of claims are also increasing again (by 3%). These conclusions are drawn by the Institute’s interim findings on 2014 data. The number of claims fell by 9.9% between 2012 and 2013 which is consistent with MoJ Portal Statistics. The reduction in average costs in 2013, following the introduction of LASPO, was 15%. Understandably, however, the Institute says that the long-term effects of legal changes (such as those introduced by LASPO) remain uncertain. The turnover of authorised personal injury claims management companies reduced from £455m in the first quarter of 2012 to £354m in the same quarter in 2013 and then to £238m in 2014. However the first quarter of 2015 saw turnover rise by 30% to £310m. Meanwhile motor insurance premiums have risen by an average of 2% per year between 2008 and 2015. That said, the first quarter of 2015 has demonstrated a reduction of 0.5%. Such reports will undoubtedly be watched carefully by all sides for trends and the government will want to tighten the system if it does not think it reducing costs can claims enough. At the moment the long term trends are not readily discernible. This may mean that the system will remain as it is for at least the short term. The report is packed with further data: Average car mileage per year has fallen by 11% since 2003 The total number of licensed cars has risen by 13% since 2003 The total mileage driven in 2014 is back to the 2003 level Congestion has increased year on year since 2011: the average speed in 2014 was 24.1 mph In 2014 there was a total of 194,477 casualties as a result of road traffic accidents In 2014, 1775 were killed, 22,807 were seriously injured and 169,895 slightly injured Pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motorcyclists account for disproportionately more casualties than would be expected given the distance travelled Liverpool remains the claims capital of the UK with 55% of claims arising out car accidents involving damage to property of another driver also involving a claim for personal injury (the national ratio is just above 30%). The lowest ratio of personal injury claims to property damage claims is in Scotland (20%) The highest ratios are in the North East (33%) and the North West (43%) The full report can be viewed via this link *LASPO - Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act which came into force on 1st April 2013

Costs Budgeting: reforms on their way…

Jackson L.J. delivered a speech on costs budgeting on Wednesday. For many of us engaged in CCMCs who encounter inconsistency, courts overwhelmed by the volume of hearings, unnecessary costs incurred and often the thinly disguised frustration of judges with the process, his conclusion that ‘costs management works’, may come as a surprise. His proposals for reform, including fixed costs in some multi-track cases, may not. In his speech he gave 7 benefits of costs management (see below) but he also dealt with objections and problems and made recommendations. I pick out a few: First, he mentioned the costs of the process in low value multi-track cases which he defined as up to ‘about £50,000’. Leeds District Judges recommended fixed costs for such cases and Jackson L.J. endorsed the recommendation for fixed costs in the lower reaches of the multi-track ‘strongly’. Secondly, the issue of judicial inconsistency, unduly long hearings and micro-management he thought should be dealt with by better compulsory judicial training. Thirdly, the problem of the wide variation in the forms of costs management orders he recommended should be dealt with by a standard form of costs management order. Fourthly, he thought that the time for filing and exchanging budgets should be increased so that they are lodged 14 days before the CCMC although there must be a discretion for the court to specify a different period. Fifthly, he was of the view that Precedent H could be improved but he recognised that solicitors had been developing their IT systems for the purpose of completing Precedent H and therefore he did not want to make successive changes. Sixthly, the problem of delays and backlogs of CCMCs he thought should be tackled by repealing PD 3E which says that courts will generally make a costs management order under rule 3.15 where costs budgets are filed and exchanged. The PD should be replaced with a judicial discretion on whether to make a costs management order and criteria to guide its exercise. Seventhly, he acknowledged the backlog of clinical negligence cases in London and suggested that all London Clinical negligence cases with CCMCs listed between October 2014 and January 2016 be released from costs management and called in for short old-style CMCs. He thought a similar solution might be required in Birmingham and Manchester. Eightly, he addressed the issue of incurred costs and the practice of doing as much work before the CCMC in order to shelter costs within the ‘incurred’ column. He did not think that it was appropriate for judges at detailed assessments to treat absence of ‘comment’ on incurred costs as approval. He suggested powers to comment on incurred costs, summarily assess them or set a global figure for any phase to act as an incentive not to put forward excessive incurred costs. In clinical negligence cases he thought that there was a need to introduce pre-action costs management. Ninthly, Jackson L.J. expressed concern about the increase of court fees introduced in March 2015. He thought they should be disregarded when considering whether a party’s costs are proportionate. These are just some of the areas touched upon in Jackson L.J.’s speech which can be read in full by following my hyperlink. He ended his talk by arguing that Costs Management was in the public interest. He thought that lawyers disliked it because it meant more work and required us to develop new skills. He predicted that within the next 10 years costs management would be accepted as an entirely normal discipline and people would wonder what all the fuss was about. For the time being Costs Budgeting is here to stay – but reform is now overwhelmingly likely to occur and we can expect to hear from the Coulson Committee in due course on what form the new rules are likely to take.   The benefits of Costs Management (refered to above) Both parties to litigation know where they stand financially It encourages early settlement It controls costs from an early stage It focuses attention on costs at the outset It stops CMCs from being formulaic leading to debate about what is really required It is fair to give your opposition notice of what you are claiming It prevents losing parties from being destroyed by costs  

Insurers’ proposals for further reform to the PI sector

The Association of British Insurers' website recently set out its top 10 insurance and savings priorities for the next parliamentary session. The most striking of these for personal injury lawyers is the proposal for “Modernising the civil justice system to get compensation to claimants rather than lawyers.” The ABI fleshes this out by suggesting increasing the small claims track limit for PI claims, considering a reduction in the current 3-year limitation period and using fixed legal fees to address the rise in industrial deafness claims and ensuring people suffering from asbestos related conditions get compensation quicker. Another of the ABI proposals which would also affect the PI sector is a proposal for “Cracking down on the behaviour of Claims Management Companies” by requiring them to comply with a more robust regulatory regime and stopping nuisance calls and texts. Some consider that pressure from the insurance industry played an important role in bringing about some of the reforms which occurred in the last parliament. The themes in the proposals are familiar and are not new. Indeed the last government consulted on some of these matters. However the ABI clearly wants to keep these issues on the agenda and it will be interesting to see what pressure is exerted in the next parliament for further reforms which could have far reaching consequences for PI lawyers and litigants. The whole list can be viewed on the ABI Website

New law - fundamental dishonesty in PI claims

The government brought into force last week a new law preventing claimants from recovering damages for personal injury when they have been fundamentally dishonest, unless it would cause substantial injustice. In the case of Summers v Fairclough Homes Ltd  [2012] UKSC 26 the claimant was injured in an accident at work and claimed more than £800,000 from his employer. Surveillance revealed him to have grossly exaggerated the effect of his injuries. At trial he was found to have fraudulently misstated the extent of his claim but the judge declined to strike out his claim and awarded £88,716. The defendant appealed and the Supreme Court held that it had jurisdiction to strike out the claimant’s statement of case but that it would only be done in exceptional circumstances, not least as the judgment on liability amounted to a possession for the purposes of the ECHR. The claim was not struck out. Section 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 looks as though it would have changed the outcome of Summers dramatically. Here are some of the ingredients and likely problems: ‘fundamental dishonesty’ - the defendant has to prove on the balance of probabilities that the claimant has been ‘fundamentally dishonest’  - a concept which the courts have been grappling with since its introduction in CPR Part 44.16(1) as an exception to the rules on qualified one way costs shifting. Considerable uncertainty remains as to the difference between ‘dishonesty’ and ‘fundamental dishonesty’. ‘primary claim or a related claim’ – the fundamental dishonesty must be ‘in relation to the primary claim or a related claim’. It will be interesting to see how far the courts will go in construing ‘a related claim’ which is defined at s.57(8) as “a claim for damages in respect of personal injury which is made (a) in connection with the same incident or series of incidents in connection with which the primary claim is made, and (b) by a person other than the person who made the primary claim.” ‘application by the defendant’ - the court cannot dismiss the claim under s.57 unless an application is made by the defendant for its dismissal. ‘substantial injustice’ – the court ‘must dismiss the primary claim’ unless satisfied the claimant would suffer ‘substantial injustice’ if it were dismissed. Again, it is not clear what the difference is between ‘injustice’ and ‘substantial injustice’. How is a judge to decide? Would the depriving a claimant of £88,716 amount to a substantial injustice? It is likely that the courts will want to give very careful thought to the needs of the injured claimant (care, economic etc) and consider how well they will be met in the event that the money is not paid over. What will happen to claims for gratuitous care which a claimant is supposed to hold on trust for the providers of that care? They may have nothing to do with the claimant’s dishonesty and yet might find themselves deprived of thousands of pounds for the hours they have given. I anticipate that a large body of case law will quickly grow up around this section. Recording damages – the court must record the amount of damages it would have awarded the claimant and then deduct them from the amount it would otherwise have awarded the defendant in costs. The dismissal of the claim under s.57 must be taken into account in a sentence handed down in any subsequent criminal proceedings S.57 only applies to claims issued after 13th April 2015. Mr Summers may well have been £88,716 poorer had this section been enacted prior to the issue of his proceedings. It will be interesting to see how often section 57 is pleaded and what the courts make of the concepts of ‘fundamental dishonesty’, ‘substantial injustice’ and ‘related claims’.

Personal Injury and the Party Manifestos

Is there anything in the parties' manifestos which might affect the field of personal injury? Reforms since 2010 include a new fixed costs regime, costs management/budgeting and greatly increased court fees. Civil liability has been removed for breaches of health and safety regulations. But what is being promised for the future? The Conservative Manifesto includes a pledge to reform human rights law. It would scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights. The intention is that this will break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights making the Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.  More is said in the section on the European Union: the Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights but “will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society.” The manifesto also pledges to continue “the £375 million modernisation of our courts system, reducing delay and frustration for the public.” A commitment is also made for an ongoing review of legal aid. The Labour Manifesto takes the opposite view on the Human Rights Act. It states that Labour would protect it and reform rather than walk away from the European Court of Human Rights. The manifesto is silent on what that reform would be. The manifesto also includes a pledge that access to legal representation would not be determined by personal wealth but would remain available to those who need it. The Liberal Democrat Manifesto states that the Liberal Democrats would protect the Human Rights Act and enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in UK Law. It specifically states that the Liberal Democrats would take “appropriate action to comply with decisions of the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights.” The Liberal Democrats have a commitment to introduce a Freedoms Act which would “cut back on the petty over-regulation of everyday life… permitting swimming in open bodies of water.” (Tomlinson v Congleton springs to mind…). They would “carry out an immediate review of civil Legal Aid… and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary…” They would “reverse any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead” spread the fee burden more fairly. They would also retain access to recoverable success fees and insurance premiums in asbestosis claims and where an individual is suing the police. There is also a pledge to support innovation like the provision of “civil justice online” and expansion of ADR. The UKIP Manifesto states that the burden of complying with EU laws on health and safety can be overwhelming for small firms. The manifesto has a commitment to repeal EU Regulations which stifle business growth. As to human rights, UKIP would remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and make the UK’s Supreme Court the final authority on matters of human rights. It would repeal the Human Rights Act and introduce a UK Bill of Rights which would complement the UN Declaration of Human Rights and “encapsulate all the human and civil rights that UK citizens have acquired under UK law since Magna Carta.” The Green Manifesto states it will “move towards a written constitution with a Bill of Rights” it also has a commitment to keeping the Human Rights Act and retaining the UK’s membership of the ECHR. There is a pledge to “restore the cuts to Legal Aid, costing around £700 million a year” although it is not clear whether this has anything to do with personal injury. It is interesting that none of the political parties have a commitment to reinstate civil liability for breach of health and safety regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.   Trivia Comparative lengths of the manifestos: Conservatives:                 84 pages Labour:                            86 pages Liberal Democrats:          158 pages UKIP:                              76 pages Green:                              84 pages   Commitment requiring more explanation: “Ban high-frequency Mosquito devices which discriminate against young people.” (Liberal Democrats)

Fee hike implemented

    Further to Ian's post last week, court fees have been increased from today - by over 600% in some cases. The Law Society have set out the arguments they are raising in support of their proposed judicial review. The most eye-catching of these is that the fee increases are "tantamount to 'selling justice' contrary to the principles of Magna Carta", presuambly on the basis that the new fees will not just be covering the court's costs of the claim, but subsidising the public purse generally. Section 29 of Magna Carta 1297 is still in force and provides: "... We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right." Whether or not 13th Century barons had court fees in mind, the government's approach seems to be based on a conclusion that litigation is an "optional activity" (see Hansard 4th March 2015). But this may lose sight of the importance to society of a properly-functioning justice system and the social value of ready access to the courts. Civil justice is not just a public service, it's a public good - as explained so well by Dame Hazel Genn in the 2008 Hamlyn Lectures. One final thought - under the old fees regime, most litigants ended up subsidising HM Revenue and Customs through 20% VAT on legal costs. Under pre-commencement funding arrangements, large costs uplifts were subject to VAT. It is ironic that this hike follows close on the heels of downwards pressure on legal costs, with the consequent reduction in VAT recovery...