- 12/05 Small Claims injury limit under threat
- 03/04 r u n h a m s move to Saltaire
- 03/04 Law Society model CFA "defective"
- 01/04 Fixed Success Fees looming
- 10/03 Predictable Costs in most Road Traffic Accident claims have been introduced.
- 06/03 Runhams ceases publicly funded work ("legal aid")
July 2001 Recoverability of Success Fees / Insurance Premiums revisited
Closure of Bradford Solicitors Listers Solicitors Limited
Legal Aid severely restricted from April 2000
04/2000 Legal Aid Board becomes Legal Services Commission, and the Community Legal Service is launched
1/4/2000 Recoverability of Success Fees / Insurance Premiums
Government Investigation into "Claims Consultants"
1/10/1999 Motor Insurers' Bureau (M.I.B.)- New Uninsured Drivers Agreement - What YOU should do NOW to protect yourself
Small Claims injury limit under threat
Against the advice of the Civil Justice Council, MASS (Motor Accident Solicitors Society, APIL (Association of Personal injury lawyers), the Law Society and many others, the government is still considering whether to increase the Small Claims financial limit for personal injury claims, from £1000 to £2500.
Why should you be worried?
Because this limit decides whether you can have access to a solicitor at no cost to you, if you are injured through someone else's fault. If they put up the limit, then maybe 70% of people who can now get 100% compensation (because their solicitor will get paid by the defendant's insurance company) will either have to do the claim themselves, or pay for a lawyer out of their own pocket.
This represents a serious threat to your access to justice. Some people think it is about enabling more people to take their case to court without a lawyer. That's nonsense. The vast majority of claims are settled out of court, and that's because the costs rules apply, whether a court claim is started or not. So a change in the limit will affect everybody's case - not just the odd ones which go to court.
Runhams move to Saltaire
saltpano.JPG (33698 bytes)
On 29th March 2004 Runhams opened the doors of our prestigious new offices within the historic Salts Mill. Based at the heart of the World Heritage Site village of Saltaire, the move gives us spacious accommodation, equipped with the latest technology, in a site with easy and quick transport links. Having run out of room for expansion at our old premises, the partners are confident that the move will enable us to develop and expand the firm, improving the services we can provide. Law Society model CFA "defective"
The Ghannouchi case, a decision of the Supreme Court Costs Office, says that the Law Society's Model Conditional Fee Agreement is defective, as Master Seager berry, who made the ruling, thought that the Model did not comply with the law. Why? Well, you would have to read the 27 pages of small print, in which Master Berry analysed in tortuous detail the meaning of a few words, and concluded that there was a defect. What is the relevance? Well, practically every CFA ("no win, no fee") Agreement in the land, since 2000, has been based on the CFA model, and so this decision suggests that the whole lot are faulty.
Since the Court of Appeal ruled in a case called Hollins v Russell that "technical challenges" by the insurance industry (fishing for any minor perceived irregularities they might find, with the aim of getting away with paying anything for costs, even though the solicitor won the case for the client) were to be discouraged, lawyers could have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief, so it is with despair that we all read Master Berry's views. It is to be hoped that the Court of Appeal will quickly and comprehensively nail the lid back down on the box, as it is precisely this sort of uncertainty which, since the incomprehensible abolition of legal aid, is making it almost impossible for the legal profession to provide access to justice with any degree of confidence that, years down the line, some other ruling will decree that costs might not be recoverable.
Fixed Success Fees
Having brought on its own head much well deserved abuse for abolishing legal aid, and foisting on the public and the profession rushed and ill-considered reforms (which led, amongst other things, to the fiascos of the Claims Direct and The Accident Group) the Government's next idea is to shackle Conditional Fees by introducing a system where in a Road Traffic Accident claim, the solicitor's success fee recoverable from the losing party will be only 12.5 % - unless the claim reaches the stage of a Trial or Final Hearing in Court, when it goes up to 100%. For reasons too weird to contemplate, the question is whether the claimant's barrister actually got on his feet and spoke. If he did, it's 100% but if he settled the claim 1 minute earlier then - despite backing a claim that has being fought tooth and nail all the way to a Court - the solicitor will still only get a Success Fee of 12.5 %
Cynics (and many others) suggest that this will deter solicitors who might previously have "had a go" at a more risky case - since why should they run a risly case for almost no reward? And this is likely to let insurance companies put yet more pressure on even basically sound cases, since by utting forward defences to liability, but at the same time making low offers to settle- maybe after several months of contest - the pressure to eliminate the risk and take the money will be great.
And under the Conditinal Fee regulations, solicitors are still obliged to carefully risk-assess each individual case. But are then expected basically to ignore that assessment. You couldn't make it up.
A new rule has been brought in as a step to try to stop the "Costs Wars", between solicitors and insurance companies, which have been raging ever since the government abolished legal aid for personal injury claims, and brought in the idea of conditional fees ("no win, no fee") work and mad the additional liabilites (Succes percentage uplifts, and insurance premiums) payable by the losing insurance company. If your claim is:
- a road traffic accident
- occurred on or after 6th October 2003
- is not a "small claim" (injury worth over £1000 or total worth over £5000)
- and damages are valued at £10,000 or less -
then if the claim settles without the need to start a Court case, the solicitor's fees and costs will be fixed at certain rates. The solicitor will be paid:
- a basic payment of £800, plus
- 20% of damages up to £5000, plus
- 15% of damages between £5000 and £10,000.
In addition certain expenses known as "disbursements" are allowed under the scheme.
In Conditional Fee Agreement cases, Success fees can be recovered and are not fixed by these rules, though steps to fix them are in hand.
Cynics predict that insurance companies will try to drag out cases, to put pressure on the solicitor to achieve a low settlement, as he will not expect to be paid any more even if he has used up more than this amount of work. There is an obvious risk that some hard pressed practitioners will be tempted to settle cheap and quick, as the less work they do in a claim, the more profitable it is. One practitioner has announced that they are moving most of their operation to South Africa, to have cheap foreign lawyers do the work, and thus increase the profit. But solicitors have been left with no choice other than to do what they can to make the system work, as the changes (one of a long line of major upheavals) are all being rushed through relentlessly and with hardly any time for proper consultation or trials.
Runhams ends Legal Aid work
Following a business review, the policy decision was taken in the summer of 2003 to cease the firm's long tradition of carrying out legal aid work (recently known as "public funding"). This was for a number of reasons, but in essence we could not economically continue to provide the quality service that we wished within the restrictions and financial constraints imposed by the legal aid system.
From 1st October 2001-
- we have shortened our business name to runhams.gif (4649 bytes) and will no longer be using the rather lengthy "Runham Kirkbride Gibbs Pollard". However, there has been no change in the composition of the firm, and all members of staff and all contact details remain the same.
More developments on recovering insurance premiums and success fees (and Why You should Care)
When the government abolished legal aid for injury claims, they rashly assumed that the insurance market would be ready to replace it with Conditional Fee and other Insurance-related arrangements. This was wildly optimistic.
The main idea behind Success Fees is that, if your solicitor wins the case, he can claim payment of (a) his normal fees PLUS (b) a Success Fee, up to a maximum of 100%. The idea is that Success Fees in winning cases make up for lost fees in losing cases. Otherwise, there's no incentive to take on cases that have a real risk of losing.
So much for your solicitor's fees. But what about payments that must be made to others? That includes Court Fees, doctor and hospital fees - and of course your opponent's legal fees if you take them on and if you lose. That is covered by After The Event Insurance. You take out a policy, and if you lose, the insurance covers these things.
Sometimes the insurance covers both sides costs (so there's no need for a Success Fee).
The problem is, the government left it entirely up to solicitors and insurance companies to decide what was reasonable, and gave no guidelines as to when it may be reasonable to take out a policy, or enter into a Conditional Fee Agreement, or what is a reasonable Succes Fee, or how much is a reasonable premium. So, we have already had much litigation to try to establish what can and cannot be done. The defendant insurers are fighting to reduce or eliminate Success Fees, and to reduce or eliminate their liability to repay insurance premiums.
Closure of Listers Solicitors Limited
Following an intervention by the Law Society, the Bradford solicitors firm of Listers is now effectively closed.
Runhams (then known as Runham Kirkbride Gibbs Pollard) obtained all files and papers with the permission of the Law Society and was given the right to speak to the former clients of Listers, with a view to safeguarding their interests. If you are a client of Listers then you have a completely free choice of which solicitors you want to take over your papers. runhams.gif (4649 bytes) will be able to discuss your requirements and would be delighted to help. Contact us on 01274 724541 and you will be put through to the appropriate person.
Please note - IMPORTANT - runhams.gif (4649 bytes) has not obtained any of the files relating to Mortgage Manager Limited or to do with the Mortgage Accelerator scheme. If your case relates to those, you need to contact the Law Society's solicitor agents, Messrs. Gordons Cranswick on 01274 202202 who will be pleased to advise/assist.
Legal Aid and Personal Injury Claims
As part of the Government's Legal Aid reforms, Civil Legal Aid to pursue personal injury claims was abolished for most claims from April 2000.
Comment by the Law Society: "From 1st April 2000 thousands of accident victims will be denied justice. As a result of Government cuts to the legal aid scheme, with very limited exceptions, help for poorer people with personal injury claims is no longer available. Instead, people who cannot afford to pay privately for legal help will have to find a solicitor who is able to take their case using a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA). Unfortunately, only the most simple and straightforward cases are likely to be suitable for this type of no win, no fee arrangement. Accident victims with complex or difficult cases will find it almost impossible to access the legal system to enforce their legal rights. Many of the 80,000 personal injury claimants each year who were once helped by legal aid now will receive no help at all. Robert Sayer, Law Society President, said: "It is a matter of great shame that the Government has abolished legal aid for personal injury victims, ignoring the concerns of consumer, advice and legal groups. Thousands of people will be denied justice. "CFAs are no replacement for legal aid. Only those people with simple and straightforward cases can expect to receive help. The abolition of legal aid in personal injury cases could be a charter for negligent bosses, careless drivers and cowboy traders."
Many commentators were bewildered by the decision, since PI claims is one area where Legal Aid had consistently provided a very cost-effective public service. Also, the insurance based alternatives- such as the so called "No Win, No Fee" or "After-the-Event" policies, are still in their infancy, and far from ready to take over the role of legal aid. But there is no sign at present of a change of heart by the Government. Claims Consultancy companies, essentially "middlemen" who are very likely to receive either a large slice of your compensation, or charge a disproportionate "fixed fee" for their "service", were expected to take full advantage, and duly did. Organizations such as Claims Direct and TAG (The Accident group) sprung up, and acquired a huge slice of the personal injury claims market, through tactics such as saturation TV advertising, street stalls, even cold calling at households. Many firms of solicitors (not Runhams) joined their "Panels" and effectively bought cases from them. The party was short, as the major claims farmers were eventually beaten by stiff resistance through the Courts by the paying insurance companies, who refused to accept the huge additional liabilities that these farm-schemes sought to generate. However, reputable schemes and non-claims-farming solicitors were all caught up with this, and suffered badly, many even going out of business as insurers refused to pay legal bills across the board. Even now, it is common for insurance companies to take 6, 9 or 12 months to pay a solicitor for work done in handling a claim. All this was predicatble and predicted. The government created a wholly unnecessary mess, and thousands - not least the employees of the defunct farmers - have suffered as a result.
April 2000: Legal Aid Board becomes Legal Services Commission,
and the Community Legal Service is launched
The Legal Services Commission is a new public body created under the Access to Justice Act 1999. It replaced the Legal Aid Board on 1/4/2000. It's stated role is to develop and administer two schemes in England and Wales:
The Community Legal Service, which replaces the old civil scheme of legal aid, bringing together networks of funders (eg Local Authorities) and suppliers (eg solicitors) into partnerships. The stated aim is "to provide the widest possible access to information and advice". However the birth has been difficult, and many criticisms have been levelled at the scheme. It remains to be seen whether access to justice will be improved. It seems likely that the number of solicitors doing "legal aid" work will greatly reduce in key fields, and especially outside large metropolitan areas. Many solicitors were so outraged by the continuing freeze on most rates of pay for legal help that there was even talk of strikes and non-co-operation.
The Criminal Defence Service replaced the old system of criminal legal aid to provide criminal defence services to people suspected or accused of crimes.
Recoverability of Success Fees / Insurance Premiums
From 1st April 2000, Success Fees and "After The Event" Insurance premiums, are now recoverable from your opponent, if you win. This only applies to cases signed up after that date. The Government has made getting help very difficult for the public by delaying publication of the new Rules relating to these new Regulations until early July 2000, whilst scrapping Leagl Aid for injury claims from 1st April 2000.
Beware Claims Consultants,
Beware of the activities of such people, many of whom are just unqualified, uninsured middle-men who are after only a slice of your compensation - for little or no work.
Have YOU experience of a claims consultant? (Good or bad). If you dealt with a consultant, were you told that you could probably get your compensation either in full, or at much less cost via a specialist solicitor? We'd like to hear from you. Details please to our Feedback page.
M.I.B. &Uninsured Drivers - why YOU are NOW at risk
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From 1/10/1999 the new Uninsured Drivers Agreement came into force, and it is potentially a big hurdle for innocent victims of uninsured drivers. There has been widespread concern expressed by MASS (the Motor Accident Solicitors Society), APIL (the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) and others.
- Why? - Because it puts YOU - the law abiding citizen who is injured by a driver that has no insurance - at risk.
- What is the Uninsured Drivers Agreement? - It is meant to be a safeguard. If you are injured, or damage is caused, by an uninsured driver, then the insurance companies pick up the bill between them through the organisation called the Motor Insurers' Bureau. But ONLY if you keep to the rules. The new Agreement changes those rules - for the worse.
- Why should I worry? - Firstly. because the new Agreement makes it much easier for your claim to be thrown out. For example, there are many clauses requiring you to do things within only 7 days, and if you fail - your claim is thrown out. The new Agreement is too onerous, the "strike-out" clauses are too widespread and unnecessary, and the Agreement has been imposed without any proper consultation.
- That bad? - Certainly. Many specialist solicitors are already severely restricting the staff who are allowed to handle MIB claims, and limiting MIB advice to specially trained staff only.
- But I'll be OK if I get a solicitor to sort it out for me, won't I? - Maybe; but maybe not. For instance, it might already be too late. And in any case you MUST ensure that your solicitor is up-to-speed with the new Agreement.
What YOU should do NOW
If you have a road accident, by law the other driver must provide you with their insurance details. If details of name, address and insurance are not exchanged at the time, or if you have any suspicions that the information you have been given is not correct, then you must act. Here is what the new Agreement says:-
##Section 154 of the 1988 Act MIB shall incur no liability under MIB's obligation unless the claimant has as soon as reasonably practicable -
(a) demanded the information and, where appropriate, the particulars specified in section 154(1) of the 1988 Act, and
(b) if the person of whom the demand is made fails to comply with the provisions of that subsection -
made a formal complaint to a police officer in respect of such failure, and used all reasonable endeavours to obtain the name and address of the registered keeper of the vehicle. or, if so required by MIB, has authorised MIB to take such steps on his behalf.
go to the nearest Police Station, report the accident and make a formal complaint that you haven't been given insurance details. They can issue a "producer" to the other driver, check details, and take the other driver to court. Be careful, and don't be put off. Ask for a Reference, write it down, and write down the date, time and name/number of the person at the police station to whom you reported the accident. If you have any suspicions about the details given, the Police can check the registered keeper details.You yourself can check registered keeper details as well, by writing the the DVLA at Swansea, stating the reason for your enquiry and paying the current fee.
Next, write a letter to the other driver, demanding details of the name, address and policy number of their motor insurance company. Don't delay in doing this. You MUST do it as soon as reasonably practicable. Give them no more than 7 days to reply. Keep a copy of your letter.
If you don't get the information, then report the failure to the police. If they would not previously accept a formal complaint, then they must do so now. Again, note all the details as above. You might want to take in a written report, and keep a copy for your own records.
There are many detailed other provisions in the Agreement. For instance, if you are required by the Agreement to "serve" (legally deliver) documents on the MIB, the only ways you can do so are by registered post, recorded delivery, or by fax. Nothing else will do, not even delivering documents personally by hand to their office.
So unless you are sure of the other drivers' insurance details - be very, very careful.
- Have YOU had a bad experience when trying to make a claim against the M.I.B.? We'd like to hear from you. Details please to our Feedback page.