5 free tools to find out if your personal injury solicitor is an expert

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Personal Injury Solicitor and Director of Donoghue Solicitors.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

How do you know if your personal injury solicitor is really an ‘expert’ in accident claims?

When you first speak to him or her you may only get their name and title.

You might feel awkward about asking them for their professional qualifications, so that without any further information you have no idea if they are truly capable of dealing with your personal injury claim, or if they are specialists in another area of law.

Luckily, the internet has come to the rescue. By using these five free tools you can quickly and easily check your personal injury solicitor’s credentials, and give yourself peace-of-mind. Ready? Here we go.

 

1.                 The Law Society’s ‘find a solicitor’ service

The Law Society, the representative body of solicitors in England and Wales, maintains a register (or ‘roll’) of solicitors through its regulatory arm, the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

To see if your personal injury solicitor is included on the roll, meaning that they are professionally qualified and properly regulated, go to the Find a Solicitor service (click on this link) and enter the solicitor’s last name. If you also have it, enter their first name, firm, and location.

You will be taken to a page where you can find their roll number, admission date, firm details, areas of law they specialise in, and details of any accreditation schemes.

This is a good place to start your research as it confirms basic details of your solicitor, but you will want to find out more.

2.                 The Law Society’s Personal Injury Accreditation Scheme search

 

Once you know that your legal representative is a qualified solicitor, how can you find out if he or she is an expert in personal injury law?

Answer: ask the solicitors’ own representatives, the Law Society.

According to the Law Society’s website, solicitors who have been appointed to the Law Society’s expert Personal Injury Panel:

‘go through rigorous examination and testing to demonstrate that they have a high level of knowledge, skills and experience in dealing with personal injury cases.’

Getting appointed to the Personal Injury Panel is hard. Less than 1,000 of all practising solicitors (over 130,000 in 2013) have been accepted to this expert group, which the Law Society calls a ‘community of excellence’.

To find out if your lawyer is a member of this élite group of personal injury solicitors, try these free tools:

i)             Review your personal injury solicitor’s entry through the ‘find a solicitor’ service (see 1. Above). You’ll find out if they are a member of the Personal Injury panel by checking if ‘Accreditation schemes: Member of the Personal Injury Panel’ is shown. If this is not listed under ‘Areas of law’ your solicitor has probably not been appointed to the Panel. (See below for why you can not be certain.)

ii)            Download the list of members from this page and see if your solicitor is among them. (Warning: this is a long .pdf document which is updated monthly, so if your solicitor has been appointed to the Personal Injury Panel more recently than that they may not show up on this list.).

iii)           go to the Law Society Approved website and type in the postcode of your solicitor’s office. If the firm’s name comes up, you will know that someone there is appointed to the Personal Injury Panel (but it might not necessarily be your solicitor).

3.         The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (‘APIL’) Accreditation Scheme Search

 

In a similar way to the Law Society, the APIL accreditation scheme show details of personal injury solicitors (or other legal professionals) who have been independently assessed by APIL as having sufficient experience, ability, training, and commitment to the rights of accident victims.

APIL is a group of around 4,500 specialist personal injury lawyers who are dedicated to personal injury claims victims.

The APIL accreditation scheme has been in place since 1999. Members must commit to 16 hours of specialist training in personal injury law each year, and their levels of experience are reflected in their status within the organisation. For example, Senior Litigators must have at least five years’ experience, be capable of running cases without supervision, and be prepared to take cases to trial. They can also provide training and supervision to others within their own firm.

You can check if your personal injury solicitor is a member of APIL, and their status, by clicking here and entering their details.

4. The APIL Accredited Practice Search

APIL also have accredited practices.

They are law firms which are assessed and approved by the organisation and have at least one lawyer of ‘Senior Litigator’ status or above.

The firms must:

  • be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority;
  • show a high standard of ‘client care’;
  • be committed to training and development;
  • have low supervision ratios;
  • have a documented quality assurance procedure; and
  • agree to have their performance monitored by APIL to make sure standards are maintained.

You can search APIL’s database of accredited firms here by entering the name of your personal injury solicitor.

If the firm is accredited, a box will appear confirming that it is an ‘Accredited Personal Injury Practice’.

 

5. Online reviews and personal recommendations

The above tools will give you great information about your personal injury solicitor’s qualifications and accreditations. But what are they like to deal with? To find out the answer to that, ask for personal recommendations from friends and family.

If they are not available, reading reviews on sites like www.google.co.uk can help.

The firm’s website, blog, Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn profiles may also help you by giving you details of your personal injury solicitor, their professional accreditations, and any legal articles they have written which demonstrate their knowledge.

Why an expert Personal Injury Solicitor is a good choice

It’s worth taking the time to research your solicitor before instructing him or her. After all, you will be relying on them to look after your accident claim and may be working with them for some time.

Note that these tools may not be accurate or up to date. If in doubt, ask your personal injury solicitor directly. Gaining qualifications and accreditations is hard work, so they will be more than happy to tell you.

I hope that by showing you these free tools you will choose the right personal injury solicitor to look after your accident claim.

 

If you want to speak to an expert solicitor about personal injury claims, contact me, Kevin Donoghue, on 0151 236 1336 or via my firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.

 

Should Serco and G4S continue electronic tagging?

 

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director at Donoghue Solicitors

I read on the BBC website today that Chris Hyman, the Chief Executive of Serco, has resigned. This follows yesterday’s resignation of G4S’s Chief Executive, Richard Morris.

Both companies provide security and other services, such as electronic tagging, to the UK government. The use of electronic tagging has doubled between 2005-2011. In 2010-11 80,000 people were tagged.

The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, reported in July that Serco and G4S had been audited and are being investigated for overcharging.

The audit revealed a ‘significant anomaly in the billing practices’, and that since 2005, Serco and G4S submitted charges to the government for electronic tagging of offenders who were:

  • still in prison,
  • no longer in the UK, or
  • had died.

What is electronic tagging?

Electronic tags are monitoring devices which are usually fitted to a person’s ankle. Their purpose is to give details of the wearer’s location. Under normal circumstances, they cannot be removed by the wearer.

Electronic tagging is used with offenders under:

  • early release from prison,
  • community-based sentences,
  • home detention curfews,
  • restrictions away from specified locations, such as football grounds,
  • house arrest or other control orders, and
  • the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005

For those under curfew, electronic tags work by sending a signal to a transmitter which is fitted in the home of the person being monitored.

The transmitter’s sensitivity is adjusted to limit the reception range to the boundaries of the property so if the tag wearer leaves home during the curfew an ‘unauthorised absence’ report is sent to the monitoring company’s control centre, who then notify the police of the breach of bail conditions.

This usually leads to a warrant for arrest being issued for a further court attendance to review bail conditions.

 

Photo of Jermaine Pennant who used electronic tagging during a football game in 2005.
Jermaine Pennant, a football player who wore an electronic tag.

Electronic Tagging and Wrongful Arrests

Although electronic tagging is a popular, and increasing, form of offender management, their use can result in wrongful arrest claims against the police.

My client Mr. W, a pensioner from South Wales, claimed compensation from Serco after their electronic tagging equipment and administrative failures led to him twice being wrongfully arrested and held by the police.

He was granted bail at Gloucester Crown Court on the basis that he agreed to have an electronic tag monitor fitted. This was to ensure that he did not break a curfew requiring him to be at home in his flat between 9p.m. and 7a.m..

The next day a technician from Serco, the private company who provide the monitoring equipment to the court service, came to Mr. W’s home and fitted the tag.

The day after the electronic tag was fitted, an ‘unauthorised absence’ report was sent by the transmitter in Mr. W’s home.

Serco contacted him the following day when he confirmed that he was definitely at home that night.

They sent a technician to his home and moved the transmitter box from his living room to the bedroom.

However, a further unauthorised absence was recorded overnight a week later.

Serco attended again as Mr. W insisted he was at home that night as well.

The equipment was checked again, but the following day my client was arrested and taken to a local police station where he was held in a police cell while the report was investigated.

The police established that the transmitter equipment was not calibrated correctly so that the unauthorised absence report was incorrect.

Although Mr. W was released an hour later, his unlawful arrest and detention was unjustified.

Photo of a prison cell, where people with electronic tagging are wrongfully arrested are held.

Unreasonable demand for access to electronic tagging equipment

Six weeks later Serco issued another report for breach of bail conditions, this time for refusing entry to allow the transmitter equipment to be serviced.

The refusal of access report came from a visit at 11.51p.m. when a technician from the company called at Mr. W’s home without warning for a regular service visit.

Not unreasonably, my client refused access and told the technician to come back at a more convenient time.

A week later the police arrested Mr. W again and held him at the same police station. They found out that there was no bail condition regarding access to his home, let alone at nearly midnight, so released him 1 hour 20 minutes later on the basis that he was not in breach.

Electronic tag compensation claims

Mr. W contacted Donoghue Solicitors as we specialise in civil actions against the police and other detaining bodies, such as Serco and G4S.

When I reviewed the evidence, initially Mr. W’s claims against Serco appeared strong.

But they defended proceedings on the basis that once they had provided the unauthorised absence and access refusal reports it was the police’s responsibility to investigate the information provided before acting on it.

The police rightly argued that this would mean that they would be second-guessing every report given to them, and refused to accept any responsibility for Serco’s errors.

I successfully showed that Serco, and not the police, were to blame for their faulty equipment, installation and reporting errors.

Compensation was agreed in an out-of-court settlement at £2,500 plus legal costs.

The consequences of incorrect electronic tag reports

The government has passed its file to the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the allegations of over-charging by both Serco and G4S in relation to electronic tagging.

I hope that they will also consider the many reports of electronic tagging errors, such as Mr. W’s above, which result in:

  • upset and distress for the electronic tag wearer and their families;
  • compensation claims for false imprisonment; and
  • unnecessary inconvenience to the police.

The resignations of the men at the top seem to be a way to keep the existing government contracts, and ensure that negotiations on new contracts are not prejudiced.

My advice to the government would be to think long and hard before entering into negotiations with either company for security related contracts.

 

If you have a claim for wrongful arrest due to an issue with an electronic tag, contact Donoghue Solicitors on 08000 124 246, or go to our website and complete the online form.

 

Images:

Jermaine Pennant cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by tony o: http://flickr.com/photos/1863/5004491336/

prison bars cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Michael Coghlan: http://flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/5997920696/

Why some accident claims victims could suffer a triple injustice

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, accident claims lawyers
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors

Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that it will not be raising the small claims limit for accident claims. The current limit is, and remains, £1,000.

The decision not to increase the small claims limit (for now) is a great relief for most innocent accident victims, who can continue to receive independent legal representation from the solicitor of their choosing when making personal injury claims.

(Below the £1,000 threshold no legal costs are payable to innocent accident claims victims, unless a court orders otherwise.)

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told Parliament today that the government was not raising the small claims limit ‘until we can determine the impact of our wider reforms on motor insurance premiums’.

Those reforms, which included deep cuts to legal costs and changes to case management introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) (‘LASPO’) in April and July 2013, have been extended to include a panel of independent medical experts to assess ‘whiplash’ claims, which the government wants to have in place by next year.

How motor insurers pushed for reforms to accident claims

Not unsurprisingly, it was motor insurers, who have to pay claims and legal costs, who pushed hard for an increase in the small claims limit for accident claims to £5,000.

They said that there is a ‘compensation culture’ here in the UK (read more about why that is not true here) of which ‘whiplash’ claims were the worst example of fraud.

By increasing the small claims limit, they argued, fraudsters would be discouraged from taking their car accident claims cases to court. So, they said, those claims and their associated costs would simply disappear.

The motor insurers argued that all motorists would benefit from reduced insurance premiums as a result of fewer payments to whiplash claimants.

Government consultation on accident claims

The argument for ending ‘whiplash’ claims was both simple and attractive to both the media and Conservative Government.

The Government has consulted on an increase to £5,000 on numerous occasions over the past few years, but decided against a raise each time, finding no evidence of the ‘compensation culture’ described by the biased insurers.

In 2010’s review, Conservative Lord Young of Graffham reported that the myth ‘is one of perception rather than reality’.

The most recent consultation was published in the summer following a House of Commons transport select committee report which recommended keeping the current £1,000 limit in place.

It would appear that the Government listened.

Picture of a car and ambulance after a road accident

Triple injustice for innocent accident claims victims

In January this year I submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice arguing that the existing reforms due to be implemented under LASPO were unfair on accident victims, their solicitors and staff, and the wider communities they come from. You can read my letter to the government here.

Even though the LASPO reforms were implemented in April and July, I still believe that by changing the system for dealing with personal injury claims and reducing the costs payable to claimant solicitors; innocent people are put at a disadvantage.

Thankfully, because of the efficient business model we have at Donoghue Solicitors, I am pleased to confirm that our clients are still receiving the same excellent service as before, despite the changes.

However, it concerns me that insurers are not working under the same costs restraints in road accident claims, and that the savings they are achieving are not being passed on to motorists in their entirety.

It may well be that, as a result of the LASPO changes to the system and insurers paying less out per accident claim in damages and costs, insurers will have:

  • more money to spend on funding their defences,
  • more opportunities to delay and deny legitimate claims,
  • push more hopeless arguments at trial, and
  • otherwise cause increases in costs and delay.

All of which means that some innocent accident victims will suffer a triple injustice:

  1. when they pay still inflated motor insurance premiums as the full savings under the LASPO reforms are not passed on,
  2. when they are injured through no fault of their own, and
  3. when their legitimate accident claims are denied or delayed due to insurer sharp practice.

Surely that was not what the government intended with the LASPO reforms?

 

For help with your accident claims call Donoghue Solicitors on 08000 124 246 or contact us.

 

Image: cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Paul Walker: http://flickr.com/photos/30591976@N05/4365461433/

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue’s plea to limit secret trials

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, Donoghue Solicitors
Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors

Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Bootle- based Donoghue Solicitors, is supporting Liberty, the human rights and civil liberties campaign group, in its fight to stop the government from extending secret trials.

Government secret courts

It may surprise many to know that we already have secret trials in this country. They are presently restricted to limited immigration courts and cases where national security is said to be at stake. They allow the Government to exclude the other party and his (or her) lawyers from court hearings.

If the government gets its way, the Justice and Security Bill, which is currently proceeding through Parliament, may extend these controversial Closed Material Procedures (also known as Secret Courts) to ordinary civil law cases.

The Bill is being promoted by Government ministers, intelligence officials and civil servants, who are trying to force it through despite objections from Coalition government rebels, Labour opposition and lawyers like Kevin Donoghue.

Lawyer’s concerns

As Kevin Donoghue explains, “although it is anticipated that national security will be raised in Closed Material Procedures cases, those outside of the Government and intelligence agencies involved will have no way of knowing if this is true. Consequently, it will make it easier for the State to cover up wrongdoing, such as torture and rendition (the practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects and sending them to secret detention centres abroad).”

He continues, “As a solicitor who specialises in civil actions against the police I am worried that Closed Material Procedures could be extended to cases which have nothing to do with national security. For example, the Government could use them to stop people claiming police abuse compensation as a result of police brutality; limit legitimate protests; and stop wounded soldiers claiming compensation after accidents involving faulty equipment.”

Presently, cases such as those described by Mr. Donoghue above are dealt with in public courts, where judges, and crucially the other party (and their lawyers), hear all the Government’s evidence and have the opportunity to challenge it. If Secret Courts are extended, Special Advocate lawyers would be appointed to represent the other party instead.

Special advocates are prevented from telling their clients of the evidence presented by the Government, so cannot assist them if that evidence can be challenged. This means that the person involved does not get to know the full case against them, and is deprived of the opportunity to challenge the evidence presented. Consequently, a victim of police brutality would never know about false evidence presented to the court used to justify the police’s conduct, and crucially, neither would the judge who decides the case.

Threat to Justice

Kevin Donoghue warns, “Closed Material Procedures are a threat to the Rule of Law. We all have the right to a fair trial, equality of arms, and open justice. If this Bill becomes law the State will be able to hide wrongdoing and prevent legitimate scrutiny. We owe it to ourselves and our children to fight back.”

The Justice and Security Bill now been returned to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. Kevin Donoghue has signed Liberty’s petition (which can be seen here) and is pursuing the matter with Joe Benton, the MP who represents his constituency: Bootle, North Liverpool.

Mr. Donoghue invites concerned citizens to contact their own MPs, and encourages people interested in making compensation claims against the police to contact him via his firm’s website, www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk, or by phone on 08000 124 246.

 

 

Donoghue Solicitors set to help Brunswick Youth Club

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors, and Keith Lloyd of Brunswick Youth Club.
Kevin Donoghue of Donoghue Solicitors and Keith Lloyd of Brunswick Youth Club shake hands on the new scheme.

Leading Bootle law firm Donoghue Solicitors has entered into a pioneering arrangement with Brunswick Youth and Community Centre (‘Club’), the registered charity based on Marsh Lane, Bootle, Merseyside.

The accident claims specialist law firm, owned and run by local resident Kevin Donoghue, is promising to pay £250 to the Club if successful new personal injury clients mention that they came to Donoghue Solicitors through ‘The Brunny’.

Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, has been a long-time supporter of the club, having previously been involved in leading youth groups on ‘awaydays’ and helping at the Club in other ways.

He explains, ‘I have enjoyed going to ‘The Brunny’ since I was a boy, and wanted to do something more to help out. This initiative gives me and our clients the chance to help the next generation.’

He continues, ‘As the payments are donations to Brunswick Youth Club by Donoghue Solicitors the money will not be deducted from client damages. Our clients will receive 100% of their damages, and the Club will benefit greatly.’

The scheme applies to all new personal injury clients of the firm, and can be used by clients based anywhere in England & Wales.

Interested potential clients should contact Keith Lloyd at Brunswick Youth Club, or go to Donoghue Solicitors’ website https://www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk/about-us/working-with-brunswick-youth-club/ .

Donoghue Solicitors are based in St. Hugh’s House, Stanley Road, Bootle, and are happy to see new clients at their offices or at client’s homes in the Merseyside area.

Will accident claims be stopped by the Ministry of Justice?

By Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, Donoghue Solicitors.

Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Accident Claims Specialists, Donoghue Solicitors
Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Accident Claims Specialists, Donoghue Solicitors

Today I e-mailed the UK Ministry of Justice to ask them to re-consider their proposed reforms of the accident claims process.

As an Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (‘APIL’) Senior Litigator, who runs an APIL corporate accredited practice, I represent many innocent accident claims victims. I am deeply concerned by the potential impact of the reforms.

Briefly, the government proposals will:

  • ban referral fees, which many solicitors pay instead of marketing/ advertising to reach out to injured accident claims victims
  • reduce fixed fees in road accident claims by £700 in the average case, down from £1200
  • increase the value of road accident claims within the ‘portal’ to capture all cases worth up to £25,000
  • extend the regime where fixed fees will be paid, via an online ‘portal’, in road accident claims to include all cases up to £25,000
  • include other types of accident claims, such as work accidents and in public places, within the fixed fee scheme
  •  potentially include complex ‘multi- track’ cases within the fixed fee scheme.

The proposals are due to be introduced in April 2013.

If implemented in full they are likely to have devastating consequences for innocent accident claims victims, people involved in the legal profession and those they support in their local communities. Only insurers and their shareholders will benefit.

It is for this reason that I have urged the government to re-consider.

My e-mail is reproduced below:

Subject: Request to the Government to reconsider their proposed MOJ reforms

Dear Ms Kebirungi

I refer to the MOJ’s letter to stakeholders of 19 November 2012, a copy of which has been passed to me.

I note the request for input by 4 January 2013. Please consider the following:-

Background

I am a sole practitioner in Bootle, Liverpool. Bootle is an impoverished area, with many under-educated and otherwise disadvantaged people.

I set up my firm in December 2010 to provide a personal service to clients I considered was lacking.

I live in Bootle and recognised the need to represent local clients, many of whom rely upon me and my staff to provide a one-on-one service given the complexities of the law.

I am a Senior Litigator with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.

I, and my colleagues, deal exclusively in civil litigation. A significant part of my practice relates to claimant personal injury work, of which virtually all is ‘no win no fee’ conditional fee work.

I maintain low overheads and have a small staff (including my wife, and colleagues with young families). We are not ‘fat cat lawyers’.

I am actively involved in my community, charity work etc.. My firm sponsors and supports local charities, such as Brunswick Youth Club, where Liverpool and England footballer Jamie Carragher learned to play.

We also provide ‘pro bono’ services to our community.

Referral Fees

Although not solely reliant on referred work for personal injury claims, we do source some work that way and pay referral fees in various amounts.

As I understand the proposals, the RTA portal fees will be reduced by £700, seemingly to reflect the anticipated referral fee paid at present, which will be subject to the ban in April 2013.

It appears that the government believes that referral fees are paid by defendant insurers in addition to legal costs in successful cases.

This premise is fundamentally wrong.

Referral fees are NOT paid to claimant solicitors by defendant insurers in successful cases. They are absorbed as a marketing fee. In losing cases, not only is the referral fee not paid, but the legal costs incurred have to be written off too.

Solicitors have had to compete in a marketplace with claims management companies and insurers for some time. We, like them, must market ourselves (by advertising, paying referral fees etc.) to get work.

If the proposed reduction in fees is approved, the Government will create an anti-competitive situation where solicitors are unable to compete with others (in particular insurers).

We will be denied the opportunity to operate in a free market.

This cannot be fair or right and, I anticipate, will be subject to a legal challenge.

Fixed recoverable costs in RTA/EL and PL portal cases

The proposals will drastically affect many small practices such as my own. The personal service we currently provide to our clients, especially the disadvantaged and under-educated, may suffer.

I have seen no report or evidence that the current figures have been costed. The existing portal figures were calculated following ‘big tent’ meetings organised by the CJC. They were intended to be reviewed (upwards) at some point.

On what basis is the Government now seeking to reduce them?

We take our duties to our clients, regulators, bankers etc. seriously. There is a fixed amount of work which must be done on every case to comply with our obligations. The currently proposed figures do not accommodate this.

The Claimant has no say in how much work must be done to win their case.

Depending on the defendant insurers’ approach, we may have to undertake many hours additional work, such as obtaining witness statements, site reports, preparing for trial, etc.

If fixed fees are introduced, there will be no incentive on the defendant insurers to conduct a thorough pre-action stock take and attempt to narrow the issues, as required by the CPR.

This will have the effect of increasing the number of court issued cases, putting an increasing strain on the court system.

The introduction of fixed costs without reforming the process by which defendants deal with claims will result in a widening gap between (rich) defendants and (poor) claimants.

Value of claim and allocation to track

I am not sure from the letter if the fixed fees are to apply to multi-track cases. If so, this would be a mistake.

I personally have dealt with numerous multi-track cases, one of which recovered only £1,500, but were rightly kept in the multi- track due to complexity.

It is a fallacy to think that any claim worth up to £25,000 should be treated as ‘simple’. Multi- track cases are allocated by the court on the basis of experience, and actively case managed by judges to ensure costs are kept under control.

There is no place for a ‘fixed fee’ regime here.

Defendant’s costs

Nowhere have I seen proposals for limiting defendant’s costs. Without similar costs sanctions, the inequality of arms mentioned above with respect to fixed fees will be stark.

Impact on the communities

As explained above, I work closely within my local community of Bootle. Me, my staff and their families all live nearby.

We provide a valuable service which is at risk if the proposals are implemented.

These proposals are unjust and unfair to the vast majority of the population.

They will result in an erosion of access to justice, especially to the disadvantaged.

Moreover, there will be a significant impact on local communities, such as Bootle, with (likely) unemployment in the legal and support sectors, as well as reduction in support for charity and other ‘pro bono’ activities.

I urge the government to reconsider these proposals.

Kind regards
Kevin Donoghue
Solicitor – Principal

 

 

The End of the World for Accident Claims?

By Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, Donoghue Solicitors

As you may know, tomorrow the Mayan calendar moves in to a new cycle.

Some people have predicted that this will lead to the End of the World.

I don’t think so, and leading academics say that the Maya never intended their calendar to be interpreted that way.

However, there are potentially devastating changes to those involved in civil litigation which, if introduced, will fundamentally change the way personal injury accident claims are dealt with after April 2013.

I’ve just written a guest post on the Charon QC law blog about this.

Please read it by clicking on the link, and feel free to comment on that site or via twitter.

 

 

Donoghue Solicitors is a specialist law firm dealing solely with personal injury accident claims and actions against the police.

Now insurers call the tune

 

By Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, Donoghue Solicitors

Picture of Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, Donoghue Solicitors

Yesterday the government confirmed the amount of money that accident victims will receive to pay their solicitors’ fees following personal injuries in a car, at work or in a public place, if proposals slated for April 2013 are introduced.

For Road Traffic Accidents dealt with using an online ‘portal’ introduced in 2010, they will only recover £500 if their claim is valued at up to £10,000. Previously, the fees were £1200 (+ 12.5% if the solicitor was acting under a ‘no win no fee’ agreement). If more than £10,000, the fees will be increased to £800. Currently these fees are not fixed, being agreed by negotiation between the parties or set by a judge at court.

For public liability claims (which include tripping and slipping accidents) and employer’s liability claims (accidents at work) the fees paid to the accident victims will be £900 for cases worth up to £10,000. If the case is worth more than £10,000, the injured person will receive £1600. Previously, as with road traffic claims worth more than £10,000, fees were not fixed.

For cases that fall out of the ‘portal’ system a new regime is being proposed, meaning that for the first time, contested cases will be dealt with using a fixed fee system from start to finish, regardless of complexity or time spent pursuing the case.

Insurance company manipulation

The downward pressure on fees has been led by insurance companies, principally those in the competitive motor insurance market. They have convinced the government to reduce legal fees paid to accident victims (which are then passed on to their solicitors), to ban referral fees and to extend the types of cases dealt with using the online ‘portal’. They argued that by doing this the government could help them reduce the cost of insurance premiums, especially in road traffic accident ‘whiplash’ claims, often using emotive, inaccurate and derogatory language. For example, Director General of the Association of British Insurers, Otto Thoresen  referred to solicitors as ‘ambulance chasers’ who ‘manipulate the system’. As a personal injury solicitor, I take great offence to such comments, which are designed to deflect attention from his members’ own sharp practices.

As a recent report by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) pointed out, the ‘compensation culture’ cited to justify the reforms is a myth.

Not only are the number of whiplash claims falling year on year, almost half the people who sustain the injuries do not claim for them. 

Most surprising of all, almost 30% of claims are encouraged by the insurers themselves, who usually sell the claims they obtain on to their own panel solicitors in return for a referral fee, some for as much as £10,000. As such, insurers are the second highest cause of ‘whiplash’ claims being made, after the injured victim deciding to pursue the claims themselves.

Advice deserts

Insurers convinced the government that there was too much money being paid to ‘ambulance chasing’ solicitors to represent accident victims. As the fees in lower value road traffic accidents alone will be reduced by 60% or more, it is likely that this will result in a great many ‘high street’ solicitors turning away this type of work from next April.

‘Advice deserts’, where people are unable to find local solicitors to represent them, could become commonplace.

This is because solicitors are heavily regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and pay large amounts for Professional Indemnity Insurance. As a result, the time and money spent on compliance and overheads to maintain law firms mean that lower fee work may not be taken as it may not be profitably done to the high standards required to satisfy regulators and insurers, let alone clients who have come to expect excellent service from independent solicitors on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

No more ‘no win no fee’

Under the present system, most of the time the legal fees paid to the accident victim are passed on to their solicitor, in return for which the solicitor agrees not to deduct any money from the compensation paid. As such, ‘no win no fee’ becomes simply ‘no fee’.

It is anticipated that accident victims will be reluctant to pay any money out of their damages to meet the gap between the cost to the solicitor to pursue their claim and the amount paid by the responsible insurers.

Given their resources, it is likely that the insurers themselves, under the guise of Alternative Business Structures, will keep the claims work ‘in-house’ at out –of-town call centres, so ensuring that they still get to profit from the fees paid. In the event they suffer a shortfall, they can just increase insurance premiums and more aggressively fight claims. Solicitors have no such option.

The personal service from a local lawyer may well be lost to all but those willing to pay legal fees out of their compensation, leaving them worse off than before the accident.  As the aim of tort law, by which personal injury claims are governed, is to put the innocent victim in the pre-accident position so that they are no worse off than if the accident had never happened, the government’s policies will result in a fundamental change in the law which favours insurers and big business over innocent accident victims.

What lawyers like Donoghue Solicitors are doing

As an accredited firm with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, we are fully behind APIL’s campaign to draw attention to the potentially devastating consequences of the changes to innocent accident victims.

APIL have written to the government demanding a review of the way in which they extended the limits of the road traffic portal, the fee reduction, and the introduction of new portals for non-RTA claims. In the event the government does not respond to APIL’s letter before claim by 23 November, judicial review proceedings will be taken. As there is also to be a consultation on the fee structure in which APIL are involved, there is still time for the government to reconsider.

Trust

The government has overlooked an important group when reforming legal services and costs: accident victims. The APIL report noted that, of the 4,000 people surveyed, almost twice as many people would trust a solicitor to look after their interests if they submitted a compensation claim than an insurer. And yet, if these costs changes are introduced, the public may well be at the mercy of the insurers, with no local solicitors to protect them.

The government has swallowed the insurers’ line about cutting excesses within the personal injury market and intends to drastically reduce the amount paid to accident victims by way of costs in the process. In doing so, they have satisfied insurers and their shareholders.

However, this will be done at great personal cost to their constituents, who include not only innocent accident victims, but the thousands who work in and for law firms who now find themselves in an uncertain professional position. It remains to be seen how much of an impact these proposals will have come election time. The Conservatives, who received £4.9 million from insurance company firms between 2005-2011, may come to regret taking the insurers’ easy money in return for letting them set the agenda.

 

Kevin Donoghue is Principal Solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors, a law firm which specialises in accident claims.

 

Will the Olympics help avoid accidents at work?

One of the buzzwords of the recent London Olympics and Paralympics was ‘legacy’.

All involved aspired to create lasting improvements in infrastructure, social and personal improvements for the East London area, and the country as a whole through the promotion of sporting activities and welfare, particularly to disadvantaged people.

Donoghue Solicitors are playing their part in this too by representing the family of a worker on a nearby business park who was sadly killed while operating a mobile elevated working platform (MEWP).

Kevin Donoghue, Principal at Donoghue Solicitors, is representing the family on a ‘no win no fee’ basis in the personal injury litigation involving a work accident.

Kevin explains, ‘my client was operating the MEWP at height. The control column of the platform became jammed due to debris being caught in it. As a result, he was forced upwards towards a roofline, where his neck became jammed against it. Sadly, he was asphyxiated.’

A Health and Safety investigation confirmed that the faulty equipment was to blame for the tragic accident.

Mr. Donoghue continues, ‘my client might have survived if those on the ground knew how to operate the machinery. It was the failure to ensure there were trained staff nearby which compounded the initial failure to maintain the machinery.’

As a result of the investigation, and Kevin Donoghue’s pursuit of damages on behalf of the bereaved family, the Olympic Delivery Authority issued a report in October 2011 in which they tested the response on an Olympic Park site. They found that the lack of trained operatives on the ground was a significant issue and recommended further training.

Kevin Donoghue says of the report, ‘the failings of the contractors in my client’s case had not been learned by the time the scenario was re-created. It is not enough to simply issue a report and ‘recommend’ action when lives are at stake.’

Kevin continues to fight for the victim’s family to receive compensation. As he points out, ‘although nothing will bring him back, we hope that my client did not die in vain and that no other families have to suffer due to this preventable failing.’

Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor and Principal of Donoghue Solicitors, can be contacted on 08000 124 246 for assistance on accident at work personal injury claims.