Jump in personal injuries claims sparks fear of hikes in insurance
PERSONAL injury claims increased by almost 5pc last year, according to the latest annual review by the Injuries Board.
The agency, which handles the initial assessment of most personal injuries actions, has warned that consumers and businesses could face higher insurance premiums if what it calls an "emerging claims culture" is not addressed.
But the board says it is not suggesting that the rise in claims, including a 33.5pc rise in motor claims since 2007 – the vast majority of which are less than €20,000 in value – is due to fraudulent claims.
The board, which will publish its annual report in the summer, has said that the increase in claims and awards has coincided with "a significant increase in promotion and advertising by claims handling intermediaries".
The board, which was set up in 2004 to assess personal injury claims and makes awards relating to motor, employer and public liability accidents, said that it had raised concerns about alleged "specialist claims-farming firms" with a number of bodies including the Law Society, the Department of Justice, the Central Bank and the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).
Last night, the agency called for an extension of advertising restrictions to all "claims handling intermediaries".
"The Oireachtas in its wisdom imposed a ban on advertising and promotion of claims services by solicitors," said the board. "Assuming that the intention of the Oireachtas was to mitigate a claims culture we're simply saying: a regulatory gap has emerged and let's level the playing field by extending those restrictions to all claims intermediaries".
The Injuries Board said a small number of online firms were "promoting a claims culture" that could result in higher insurance premiums for consumers and business and a decline in competitiveness.
It was not in a position to disclose how many complaints it has received or forwarded on to the authorities about the activities of "claims handling intermediaries" but said the firms numbered between five and 10 entities.
The DPC said it has received no complaint from members of the public about online firms.
The data protection watchdog said that it has been in discussions with the Injuries Board since last December about claims firms.
Last year, the injuries board saw compensation awards increase by 3.9pc to €218m.
CEO Patricia Byron said a "steady" and "consistent" upward trend comes at a time when Irish roads "have never been safer" and fewer people are at work.
"We believe that a regulatory gap has emerged whereby solicitors are restricted from promoting their services yet claims handling firms can do so with impunity," said Ms Byron.
"The upcoming Legal Services Bill presents an opportunity to address an emerging claims culture by extending restrictions on advertising to claims handling firms and by introducing strict powers of enforcement and sanctions for non-compliance by all intermediaries".