Scrivenger Seabrook Solicitors’ Director Marc Folgate analyses the potential impact of the Government’s plans for fixed fees in clinical negligence claims.
“It comes as no surprise to us that the Government is seeking to restrict legal costs recoverable by Claimants from the Treasury coffers. Those of us who undertake this work will have been aware of the rumblings of the PR machines; focused upon disproportionate fees and “fat-cat lawyers”.
However, the public only has access to one side of the argument; an argument in which the paying party (in this case the Government) appears to hold the only megaphone.
It is not dissimilar to the insurance industry and its claims of rising premiums caused by claimants pursuing injury claims, including fraudulent or bogus ones. Several years ago the industry succeeded in persuading the Government to introduce fixed fees for personal injury claims involving anticipated damages payments of less than £25,000.
Yet, only last week the insurance industry sought to justify the fact that motor premiums had hit record levels on a variety of factors, including legal fees paid in respect of injury claims pursued; despite the fact that these have been capped for several years now.
It would appear that the Government wishes to take patient safety down the same road. Fixed costs which make the work potentially uneconomical and therefore undesirable.
One sees the potential advantages for the Treasury. But what about the patient?
At the end of the day the law is a means of providing accountability. It is an effective means because the financial consequences of failing to do so can be punitive. In many of the reported cases in which costs become disproportionate there is likely to be another side to the story. These have been successful claims. Why were they not settled earlier? That is something the Treasury needs to examine in the interests of the taxpayer; however, knocking out clinical negligence claims with a value of less than £25,000 by imposing an effective “excess” may have significant impacts on accountability and therefore patient safety. After all, if you take the model of whiplash claims, the stated aim of reducing premiums has evidently been spectacularly missed.”
14 February 2017