Thursday, November 14, 2013

3 Reasons to be worried about Independent Medical Panels

Brought to you by our friends at Spencers Solicitors

The proposal to introduce independent medical panels to examine people suffering from whiplash may sound like a good idea.  But there are reasons for concern about the wider impact of the government’s plan.

In fact I think there are three reasons.

     1. Another excuse for insurers to under settle legitimate injury claims
When someone is injured in a road traffic accident, it is common for the insurer of the driver at fault to contact the injured person and offer them an early settlement.  Over the phone this is ‘sold’ as a more convenient solution than having to push their compensation claim through the court system.

The conversation usually takes place before the injured person has had a chance to see a lawyer or medical professional.

The insurer’s agenda here is clear; by convincing an injured person to accept their pre-medical offer, they avoid a legal battle and paying what would likely be a much more significant compensation amount.

Now while the government intends to wipe out fraudulent whiplash claims by making independent medical examinations compulsory - the proposal’s implementation would create another opportunity for insurance companies to leverage more early settlements and dodge their obligation to compensate innocent drivers for their injuries.

Just as the insurer currently pitches an early settlement as an ‘easier option than going through courts’, they will also be able to pitch it as an ‘easier option than going through a compulsory medical examination’.

John Spencer’s recent blog refers to the same and offers alternative suggestions to make it better rather than just pick holes as a lot of reports are currently doing. 

So only when the practice of contacting accident victims prior to legal advice or medical consultation is stopped, will I consider the government’s proposal as holistically positive.
Until then I’m seeing it as a double-edged sword.

      2. Who watches the watchmen?
The proposed medical panels will be ‘independent’ and necessarily so.
But who will manage the panels? Who will fund them? And who will appoint the professionals to be on them?

The points were raised by John Spencer here. Not only do his questions need clarification but they also need the right answers.

If there is any indication of a body like the Association of British Insurers being involved in the selection process, then there is a danger that the panels will be pulled away from any true ‘independence’.

     3.     Injured party’s freedom of choice is removed
The proposal may carry with them a host of benefits to the justice system; however innocent claimants ought to have a right to choose their appropriate medical expert (and the opposing side the right to object).

Simply being assigned to a panel where you would have no say in who you are being examined by is an almost dictatorial way of doing things.

As an alternative, I side with the idea of introducing a pool of accredited medical experts, from which each claimant can choose to be examined by. The principle behind the proposal would remain the same and the accident victim would retain their freedom of choice.

What do you think?
Are there any other solutions, or are whiplash panels the way to go?  Put your thoughts down in the comments below and have your say.

About the Author
Susan Randall is a Chartered Legal Executive and motor accident litigator at Spencers Solicitors.  Susan handles a variety of medium to high value claimant personal injury cases arising from road traffic accidents, including those involving pedestrians, motorcycles and low velocity impact.

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