Professional Negligence solicitor, Emma Slade, comments on press reports about the rise in claims against personal injury lawyers for under-settling accident compensation

A recent article in the Law Society Gazette affirms what we, as professional negligence solicitors have long suspected: that claims against personal injury lawyers for professional negligence are on the increase because they are routinely under-settling accident claims.

There appears to be two main reasons for this: under-qualified staff and costs timetables.

A large proportion of injury claims are now dealt with by very junior ‘claims handlers’, many of whom have little or no formal legal training. Personal injury law has been de-professionalised to a significant degree, with companies spending vast sums on TV advertising campaigns to attract a high volume of accident claims that can be dealt with by an army of paralegals, working under the supervision of a single solicitor.

These injury paralegals are reliant on computer systems that enable them to process bulk claims in a routine, almost mechanical fashion. In many cases this is fine. However, because many of them are not legally qualified, mistakes can occur. They do not always understand why a particular course of action is being followed and do not always have the experience to know when a case calls for more specialist legal input.

Unqualified claims handlers can have particular difficulty understanding the significance of medical evidence. They are often unable to analyse or question the medical opinions expressed in the reports or identify where further medical evidence may be required, for instance from another medical expert in a different discipline. I am currently dealing with one professional negligence claim in which the personal injury lawyer did not appreciate the extent of the Client’s injury so failed to obtain an appropriate medical report. We reckon the client’s compensation claim was actually worth 10 times more than the figure she was advised to accept.

Some claims management companies also seem to be more concerned with how quickly and cost effectively a claim can be ‘turned around’, without necessarily striving for the best settlement for the claimant. Not all claims management companies are like this, but certainly those cases which we have dealt with suggest that undue speed in bringing a personal injury claim to a conclusion has led to the true value of the claim being missed and the case under-settled. Claims are being settled before the full extent of the injury is fully known and as the value of an accident claim is largely based on the severity of the injuries this inevitably leads to mistakes occurring and insufficient compensation being recovered.

Personal injury work is almost exclusively funded using conditional fee agreements (“no win, no fee”). This means the firm does not receive an income during the life of the claim and this can lead to some firms looking for a quick turnaround. The sooner the case is settled the sooner the costs can be recovered. Again, a quick settlement may suit many claimants but if claims handlers are too eager to settle the PI claim important legal points can be missed that will lead to the clients missing out on thousands of pounds..

If you feel that your personal injury compensation claim has been under-settled, we will be more than happy to discuss it with you and advise you about bringing a professional negligence claim on a no win – no fee basis to recover the compensation that you have lost out on.

Please feel free to email me at emma.slade@sleeblackwell.co.uk