The cancer of false injury claims is being encouraged by unscrupulous lawyers
Published 21/06/2016 | 02:30
Americans refer to it as 'ambulance chasing'. You have seen it on TV. A dodgy lawyer hangs around what they call the 'emergency room', hoping to sign up someone who has just had an accident to get them to make a personal-injury claim.
That would not be permitted in this country.
So the Irish version is what is known as 'claims harvesting' through advertising online or in local papers.
This is the practice of identifying accident victims for referral to personal-injury lawyers.
There is a public policy of frowning on such activity in this country - and for good reason.
Claims harvesters encourage spurious claims. This is important, as insurance premiums have shot up due to higher levels of claims, some of which are exaggerated or false.
Premiums are also up due to under-pricing in the past by insurers and under-reserving.
Barristers and solicitors are subject to strict regulations that stop them engaging in claims harvesting or buying personal-injuries actions from harvesters.
Claims harvesters have a reputation for encouraging people to make a claim. But far more sinister is the fact that they encourage false and exaggerated claims.
Spurious claims add around €50 to the average premium, but the figure may even be higher.
A number of exaggerated and false motor claims collapsed in court recently when evidence was produced proving that the accidents had been staged.
Honest solicitors resent the actions of dodgy colleagues who bulk buy claims, most of which are spurious.
One solicitor in a rural town explained: "There is a high rate of blatant advertising by a number of solicitors in this country, practically inviting claims. Week in, week out, on websites and in provincial newspapers, there are ads, sometimes in full graphic colour, encouraging claims."
Insurance companies cite high levels of claims and generous levels of awards compared with our EU neighbours as a major contributory factor to spiralling insurance costs.
Damages for whiplash here - the most common form of claim - are, at €15,000 on average, far in excess of those in other countries.
The clampdown by the Law Society on its solicitor members whom its suspects of bulk buying claims should go some way in helping to eradicate the cancer of dodgy personal-injuries claims.
Other moves are afoot.
A new Book of Quantum, which provides a guideline of injuries and value ranges of damages appropriate to injuries, is due in six weeks' time.
It will reflect awards made in the courts.
That will mean award levels will rise, but it should at least mean consistency in award levels - if judges can be persuaded to abide by it.
Inconsistent award levels are a major problem for insurers.
If the Law Society can clamp down on claims harvesting and judges are more consistent in the awards they make, it will all help the hard-pressed motorist get cheaper insurance.