Since this article was first written, the spread of Coronavirus has seen the World Health Organisation declare the disease to be a pandemic. Drastic alterations to the way we go about our daily lives have already taken place with undoubtedly more upheaval to follow.
What the next few days will bring is impossible to predict, let alone what will be happening a month, 3 months or 6 months down the line…
Personal injury practice in 2020
“Wouldn’t it be nice…”, sang the Beach Boys. Claimant Personal Injury Lawyers at the start of the New Year, would probably have completed the line of the song by finishing the opening line thus:
”…. if 2020 was fairly uneventful, with a chance for us to consolidate, at last.”
Little chance of that. The stark reality is that in the first year of this new decade, once again the personal injury sector is under attack.
What’s likely to be in store over the coming year?
1. The ‘so-called’ Whiplash Reforms
On the 6th April 2020, the whiplash reforms were due to be implemented by way of the Civil Liability Act. Just to refresh the memories of those who are not PI lawyers, the government have decided to introduce a tariff system in relation to whiplash injuries, which will attract compensation on a fixed tariff scale. Claimants will be encouraged to use a new online portal themselves in order to process their own claims against the third-Party Insurers.
With only a matter of weeks before the self-imposed deadline was on us, there remained much to be done. Rules and protocols still needed finalising and then introduced formally by way of statutory instrument.
Claimant and Defendant PI solicitors don’t usually unite on many things, but they are agreed on this – that the whole matter has been a shambles.
Finally, on the 27th February, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland announced that the implementation of the whiplash reforms is to be delayed until 1st August 2020. The Lord Chancellor also used the announcement of the delay to advise that a key element of the portal, a form of ADR to assist litigants in person in cases where liability was being denied, or to challenge what are considered to be low offers, would be dropped.
2. The increase of the small claims limit to £5000
Of equal significance for claimant PI solicitors, will be the increase of the small claims limit for road traffic accident personal injury claims from £1000 to £5000. Many more RTA injury claims will fall to be dealt with in the small claims track.
The revision of the small claims limit was to be introduced in April. However, this too will now be delayed until August.
On a more positive note for the claimant camp, the Lord Chancellor in his speech to Parliament of the 27th February, confirmed that the increase in the limit will not apply to children or protected parties (along with vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists).
3. The possibility of further attacks on the PI sector from the new Government
The last decade saw some seismic changes for the personal injury sector particularly with the introduction of LASPO 2012.
There has been a feeling amongst claimant PI lawyers that ever since a private meeting at No 10 Downing Street in 2010, between the government and representatives of the Insurance Industry (with no claimant representatives invited), that the Insurers only need to ask and the government seem happy to give them what they want. Whether that’s the case or not is a matter of conjecture.
However, a recent Law Gazette article quoted former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer as telling an all-party parliamentary group on Legal Aid, not to underestimate “just how much politicians now in charge of the country hate lawyers.” Will the Insurers be emboldened to ask for more and if so, will they get what they want?
4. Legal Technology
Advances in technology in the legal sector will continue apace. Will legal PI chat bots or robots take over? No. However, it is likely that more than ever, would be personal injury clients will be using digital technology to find their ideal PI solicitor, through the normal online browsing methods but also through the use of devices like Alexa. The need to engage with clients and prospective clients digitally will only increase and PI lawyers who don’t wise up this will find themselves left behind.
Unclear road ahead
2020 looks like it will be anything but uneventful for those working in the PI sector. Are more PI firms likely to go to the wall? Yes, undoubtedly more firms will stop doing PI and doubtless there will be some large firm casualties along the way, too.
Is the end nigh for the claimant PI sector as a whole? Absolutely not. There will still be plenty of great PI firms working hard to both provide excellent service to their clients, whilst managing to keep themselves financially viable. Claimant PI lawyers as a homogenous group, are hugely resilient. Ever since the Woolf reforms in 1999 saw the Civil Procedure Rules coming into force, the harbingers of doom have been forecasting the end of PI.
This is not to be blasé about the challenges in the year ahead and only the fit will survive – those firms that probably for one, specialise solely in PI, Medical Negligence and/or Industrial Disease claims and that cut their cloth accordingly. Add to that a need to be digitally savvy, have a great website and lots of online engagement. However, for us here at Mooneerams Solicitors we don’t forget the importance of old-fashioned customer service when engaging with our clients too. That will remain the case in 2020 and beyond, we are sure.