Insurers hoping for inequality

by JamesBooker on October 9, 2014

Since 2012 the Government has begun taking steps to reduce the toll wrought by fraud, whiplash and unscrupulous claims management companies. And perhaps this goes some way in explaining why motor insurance premiums have become more affordable, with prices dropping by 14 per cent at a time when inflation has been the watchword in just about every other market.

But it is clear that a great deal more needs to be done – just how do we balance the need for access to justice (namely personal injury solicitors), for those people who have genuinely sustained injury in car accidents, with the need to ensure that unscrupulous claims are weeded out and the cost of the motor insurance moderated?

One body charged with ensuring that this happens is the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which recently completed a two-year investigation into the motor insurance market with particular reference to fraudulent and overly-expensive car accident claims.

However, it has come under criticism for its handling of the investigation, with many critics accusing it of failing to make the most of an opportunity to address the central problems of fraud, the intangibility of whiplash injury, increasing legal costs and uninsured drivers.

One positive to come out of the CMA investigation was that it did not recommend many of the more populist ‘solutions’ to the sometimes extortionate cost of motor insurance. For example, it has already become very difficult for some drivers, passengers and pedestrians to claim for personal injuries, such as whiplash, sustained in road accidents; a situation that has resulted in many less well-off citizens being denied access to personal injury solicitors – hardly a situation that is consistent with living in an egalitarian democracy.

One staunch critic of the CMA investigation has been, unsurprisingly, Mark Wilson, chief executive of Aviva. He says that the CMA failed to address the fact that for every £1 paid out by Aviva for a personal injury claim, another 77p goes to accident lawyers to account for their fees.

No one is disputing either this figure or its ludicrousness. However, it is important to bear in mind the fact that it is all too often the intransigence of insurers that leads to cases being unnecessarily contested, and frequently on spurious grounds.

Perhaps if car insurance companies actually tried harder to honestly settle claims at an early stage, thereby avoiding lengthy legal battles, we could all save millions on avoidable lawyers’ fees.

The insurance industry argument (as expounded by Wilson) that many ‘small value claims’ do not require legal support is at best disingenuous. In reality, it is more likely to be dangerous; these claims might be of ‘small value’ to the insurance industry but to the everyday person on the street they can be the difference between meeting the rent or drifting into emergency accommodation.

All members of society deserve equal access to quality legal advice – it is a civil right – and by removing personal injury lawyers from the process, there is a real risk that the insurance industry would be riding roughshod over some of society’s most deprived and marginalised groups. We must not let it happen.




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