Solicitors to be targeted in insurance clampdown
State to review fees in compensation cases
Solicitors cashing in on personal injury claims will be targeted as part of the Government's response to the drastic rise in motor insurance costs, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The Government's working group on insurance costs has committed to examining the "impact of legal fees on personal injury awards".
The planned clampdown on legal fees is among 40 recommendations to be included in a report published next month that aims to bring Ireland's soaring insurance costs under control.
The working group, chaired by Junior Finance Minister, Eoghan Murphy, also plans to strengthen the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, in an attempt to reduce the need for solicitors.
A senior Department of Finance source said solicitors had been "striking it rich" with property conveyancing during Celtic Tiger years. "When that tap was turned off they had to look for another source of convenient revenue and you just have to look at the amount of solicitors in this area," the source said.
Anti-fraud initiatives also feature heavily in the full list of 40 recommendations, seen by the Sunday Independent.
They include an "insurance fraud database", similar to the UK's which lists fraudulent claimants and "exploring the potential for further cooperation between the insurance sector and An Garda Siochana in detecting fraud".
In the UK, insurers fund a specialist unit in the City of London Police dedicated to insurance frauds.
Other recommendations include getting rid of the paper-based motor insurance disc; a fully functioning database that would allow gardai check insurance compliance and a raft of proposals to introduce more transparency on insurance prices for customers.
The minister also plans to set up a personal injury commission to examine payouts for injuries, such as whiplash, which have risen substantially in recent years.
The recommendation to explore closer co-operation between insurers and gardai comes amid a reported increase in "organised" insurance fraud and claims from insurers that the Data Protection Act, which protects citizens' personal information, has hampered them from sharing information on multiple claimants.
Aviva said it is currently investigating around 2,000 fraudulent claims. They include two separate investigations into members of the same families who have submitted claims to the value of €3m. In a statement to the Sunday Independent, members of one family in Munster submitted 100 separate personal injury claims relating to around 30 "minor" accidents.
A second family in Munster is suspected of staging accidents in shopping centre car parks. According to Aviva, "two of these accidents involved the same person in the same vehicle colliding with innocent parties reversing from a parking spot".
Aviva said that criminals appear to be funding their lifestyles with the proceeds of accident claims. "However Data Protection legislation protects these criminals by restricting our ability as insurers to share information on their fraudulent activities," it said.
Another of the main insurers, AXA, said it has opened over 600 investigations this year alone into suspect insurance claims, from motor insurance to household claims.
The insurer has identified organised rings involved in staged traffic accidents in Cork, Donegal and Galway, where 190 people have submitted personal injury claims in what investigators suspect are 35 "staged" accidents. The amount of money being pursued is more than €2m.
"The sharing of data by insurance companies would assist in the investigation of suspected insurance fraud. AXA would welcome any database that would assist in protecting our honest policy holders," the insurer said in a statement to the Sunday Independent.
Insurance prices have risen by 56pc since January 2011.
The cost of motor insurance has gone up by 66pc and by 25 per cent in the last 12 months.