Whiplash reforms delayed until April 2021
Controversial personal injury reforms have been postponed for the second time in two months.
The well-documented changes to how people can claim compensation for whiplash injuries have been postponed again after the coronavirus crisis has made it impossible to meet the 1 August deadline.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed last month that an initial delay was due to a vital part of the reforms, the litigants in person portal, not being ready for full implementation. This week, Lord chancellor Robert Buckland QC has put this back further.
This is a further setback for the Government who had initially worked on implementing the changes by April 2019. The delay will come as no surprise to most, however, with calls for clarity on the implementation process growing louder in recent weeks.
‘It is apparent that the current Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors. While the whiplash reform measures remain important, the government is committed to acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak where it can.'
‘As a result, the government has considered representations from key stakeholder groups and agrees that now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change to the personal injury sector.’
What are the proposed small claims limit changes?
Within these reforms, there are various changes being made in relation to how people can claim compensation for whiplash injuries. Crucially, it will significantly affect the amount of compensation that can be claimed.
Compensation for small claims will now be decided on a tariff-based system, which will be introduced to limit the amount of money the injured party can receive. These tariffs have not been officially published yet by the Government, but the proposed figures are significantly lower than current compensation, and may be as little as £500 for many cases.
In addition to the changes of compensation, people injured in a car accident who suffer neck/back/shoulder soft tissue injuries will likely be no longer able to instruct a solicitor to bring a claim on their behalf.
Currently, the small claims limit for injuries incurred through road traffic accidents is £1,000. The reforms will see this limit rise to £5,000. For all other types of personal injury it will double, to £2,000.
This means that all road traffic accident claims that are valued at less than £5,000 will have to go through the small claims court. This will mean that those victims will be unable to reclaim the cost of representation.
The online litigants in person portal, which has been delayed, is being implemented to handle the higher number of people representing themselves.
Why have the reforms been postponed?
The most recent postponement is primarily down to the effect coronavirus is having on the medical, legal and insurance industry. The Lord Chancellor has said that the further delay will allow affected sectors to focus their energies on delivering a response to the virus and subsequent lockdown, as well as allow the Government to concentrate on maintaining key services in the justice area.
In addition to this, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland stated last month that, although there had been major progress towards its implementation, the litigants in person portal was the cause of the delay.
The initial delay in the roll-out is to ensure there is sufficient legal framework in place for the portal to function properly. Prior to the announcement it was clear to many that there was an absence of progress made by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee in relation to the pre-action protocol and the rules which provide the framework underpinning the reforms.
Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said:
The Government has decided that more time is necessary to make sure the whiplash reform programme is fully ready for implementation.
We have always been clear that we need to do this right rather than hastily. In particular, we need to provide sufficient time to work with the Civil Procedure Rules Committee to put in place the supporting rules and pre-action protocol and to give industry sufficient time to prepare their businesses for the changes to how small road traffic personal injury claims are managed.
We will also lay the statutory instrument in parliament to introduce the tariff of damages for whiplash injuries.
Alternative Dispute Resolution inclusion dropped
Within the news of the delay also came the announcement that the Government’s proposal to include a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) within the online process has been dropped. This safety net for litigants could have provided some assurances to the individually injured person if they were to come up against much larger and wealthier insurers who deny all liability.
Mr Buckland said of removing the lifeline for litigants:
There is no practicable solution which gave sufficient coverage of ADR for claims that could be found.
As a result, ADR will no longer be part of the online service. Instead, we will ensure access to justice by developing bespoke processes to enable litigants to go to court to establish liability.
What these bespoke processes are remain to be seen.
A very much welcomed bit of news, however, came in the form of protection for vulnerable road-users, such as motor-cyclists, cyclists, pedestrians and children. Lord Chancellor Buckland clarified that the new small claims track limit would not apply to those vulnerable users. He stated:
Because these claimants will not be subject to the new small claims limit, they will also not be subject to the new pre-action protocol and so will not have access to the online service.
As such, they will not be able to source their own medical report via the online service, which is statutorily required to settle claims for whiplash injuries.
Therefore, until they can access the online service, the normal track for claims by children and protected parties which include a whiplash injury, will be the fast-track and these claims will not be allocated to the small claims track.
How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?
At Percy Hughes & Roberts, our team understand being injured can be a stressful and traumatic time. This is why, if you have suffered an accident that was not your fault, our personal injury team is on-hand to guide you through any potential claim you may have, as quickly and as stress-free as possible.
Our personal injury team are all fully qualified solicitors with a wealth of experience to ensure you get fully compensated for your injuries and financial losses. You will have direct contact with your own personal solicitor who will regularly update you on the status of your case.
If you would like to contact one of the team, get in touch with our expert accidents at work solicitors today by calling 0800 781 3894 or, alternatively, fill out our “Quick Enquiry” form and one of our advisors will get back to you right away.
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To speak to an accident claims solicitor for advice, contact Percy Hughes & Roberts for a no-obligation phone consultation today. We provide ourselves on offering expert advice that's easy to understand, and we will be with you through every step of the legal process.