An increasing trend for personal injury or firms to start taking on much more specialist medical negligence work in an attempt to boost profits could seriously damage the profession.
A new report from consultants Citadel Law flags up the changes after the recent changes to regulations made in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). As well as potential long term consequences for those working in the legal profession, the changes could also lead to an increase in the professional indemnity insurance premiums paid by law firms.
In April 2013, new regulations governing how clients are charged for personal injury work were introduced, but it is only now that we are beginning to see them take effect. Cases which had begun prior to the changes are now being concluded, and any new claims cases have to be taken on under the new fixed-cost rules. Fixed-fees are biting into the traditional “slip and trip” compensation companies’ revenue, and many are starting to diversify into other areas to maintain revenue, often without sufficient specialist expertise.
Why? Although more complex, medical negligence cases are not covered by fixed-fee rules and are therefore an attractive prospect to many law firms who see their current sources of work beginning to dry up.
The main problem with this growing trend is that many of the more generalist personal injury firms just don’t have the expertise they need for this kind of work. Medical negligence cases are often quite different to other types of personal injury, and require in depth medical knowledge. Medical negligence can cover complex conditions like spinal cord damage and birth complications, and often take far longer to resolve.
Citadel Law looked at the caseload of many firms and concluded that clients and law firms themselves are being put at risk. Using a junior non-solicitor to manage this sort of complex medical error claim increases the risk of under-settlement, the consequence of which is often financial hardship for the vulnerable clients, who may be under the impression that they are dealing with extensively trained and highly experienced experts.
These risks are not only relevant for the personal injury law firms themselves, and there is the possibility of long term consequences for the entire legal profession. Bad service results in more compensation claims for professional negligence for under settlement or mismanaging of a medical negligence claim, reduces trust in lawyers generally and certainly lowers the profession’s reputation. There has already been negative coverage about hefty legal fees and the cost to the NHS of negligence claims. This will only get worse if more non-specialist law firms take on medical negligence cases.
There is also likely to be increased charges for insurance premiums, and the competent firms are going to have to carry the cost of increased charges to cover for other companies’ poor practice.
We believe that general personal injury firms have to consider carefully whether they should be expanding into clinical negligence work. If they decide to take on this sort of work, they should think about what checks and balances they can put in place to minimise risk. This includes considering what staff they have available, whether to employ specialist solicitors, and what technical skills are needed.
If you are thinking about putting forward a claim for medical negligence, then don’t take the risk of employing a general personal injury claim. Search for one of the 180 solicitors in England and Wales who are members of both the Law Society’s medical negligence panel and the panel run by Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (AvMA). Our medical negligence team is led by Denise Broomfield, a solicitor who is a member of both panels and we also have a solicitor on the team who is a fully qualified nurse.
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