The insurance industry's propaganda blames everyone except themselves
Published 23/06/2016 | 02:30
One important voice that is never heard in the debate about motor insurance is the voice of accident victims. No one in the insurance industry, in the media or in the political world seems to have much sympathy for them.
The victims of accidents, by contrast with the insurance industry, have no massively-funded industry organisation to propagandise on their behalf.
They are vulnerable individuals with no corporate or collective clout. The only voice they have is that of their solicitor.
The fact that individual human beings - innocent victims of the negligent driving of others - suffer agonising, debilitating or even life-changing injuries seems to matter very little to most commentators.
All that matters is that the profits of multi-national insurance companies have been diminished and the insurance companies will load the consequences on the long-suffering premium-paying public.
Far more people pay premiums than make claims. That is the nature of all insurance.
Yet there are two dates potentially vital to your insurance policy.
The first is the date on which you pay your insurance premium and obtain cover. This applies to everyone.
The second date, equally important although it applies directly to only a small minority, is the date on which you may have the misfortune to have to make a claim because of an injury someone else has caused to you or that you have caused to someone else.
Accident victims are continuously tainted, by insurance industry advertising campaigns, with the suspicion of fraud or exaggeration.
But as the retired President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, questioned last week, if insurance companies believe that fraudulent claims are being made, why don't they defend these cases in court and, having done so successfully, report them to the gardaí?
Could it be because the overwhelming majority of claims by victims of accidents are in fact perfectly legitimate?
What of the role of solicitors in taking on so-called 'spurious' claims?
To begin with, it should be understood that it is the client who is the plaintiff in the litigation, not the solicitor.
In accordance with Section 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act, 2004, a plaintiff in a personal injuries action must swear an affidavit verifying any assertions or allegations on which the claim is made.
It is an offence for the plaintiff to make a statement in this 'verifying affidavit' which they know to be false or misleading.
In addition, the medical evidence in the case is given not by the solicitor but in a written report or oral evidence by a member of the medical profession.
Both the accident victim and his/her doctor can be cross-examined on their evidence at a trial.
Accordingly, it is very difficult, in view of the rigour of the courts system and the aggressive approach that insurers take to every claim, for a 'completely spurious' (ie. completely false and fraudulent) claim ever to succeed.
For a solicitor to knowingly assist a client in bringing such a claim would, if proved, in all likelihood be career-ending for that solicitor.
It is likely that their name would be struck-off the roll by the President of the High Court on the application of the Law Society who would consider such conduct utterly reprehensible.
In addition, the solicitor could and, in the view of the Law Society should, be prosecuted by the State for criminal conduct with prison as the likely result of conviction.
But I am unaware of any case where a judge has reported to the Law Society evidence of a solicitor knowingly bringing a spurious claim on behalf of a client.
In the view of the Law Society, it is the claims of the insurance industry propaganda machine, not the claims of the overwhelming majority of accident victims, that are spurious and misleading of the public. But who should the public believe?
In his contribution to the Dáil debate on this subject on April 20, the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, referred to a letter he had written to the Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland seeking a report on the insurance sector.
In reply, he was told by the Central Bank that until recently insurance firms enjoyed a prolonged period of reasonable investment return on the asset side of their balance sheets.
This income stream provided firms with the scope to compete aggressively on price.
The Central Bank proceeded to advise the minister that "recent premium increases are designed to restore core underwriting profitability".
As the independent and authoritative Central Bank makes clear, therefore, it is matters internal to the insurance industry, including their reductions on investment returns and consequent inability to continue competing aggressively on price, which are driving these huge hikes for insurance consumers.
It is not the legal process or the legal profession that have caused this.
Nor is it the victims of accidents whose plight, wrongly, receives little or no sympathy.
But the insurance industry's propaganda machine continues to blame everyone but themselves.
Ken Murphy is the Director General of the Law Society of Ireland