Online Claims Portal Fosters Litigation

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Personal Injury lawyers are now well-versed in the streamlined online claims portal system which, until recently, was confined purely to road traffic accidents worth less than £10,000.  But, now we have been using it for a couple of years, and now it has been expanded to include accidents at work and public liability (slips and trips) cases, has the portal been successful in ensuring early cooperation between the parties?

Sadly…no.  In fact, just the opposite. The online system was brought in to make straightforward low-value cases proceed quickly and efficiently, at minimal cost.  Claimant lawyers receive a fixed fee for the work (which has just been reduced by around 60%!) and insurers must provide a liability decision within only three weeks of being notified of the claim (in RTA cases), as opposed to the three months that they had before.  Good idea, in principle, and indeed many simple cases have now been settled far sooner than ever before.  But what happens when liability is denied by the insurer?

In principle, the case falls out of the streamlined system and lands squarely back in the old “Pre-Action Protocol”, which gives the insurer the now antiquated three month period to conduct further enquiries.  Under this old system the insurer was required to return a liability decision within that deadline, and if liability was denied they would have to disclose documentation in support of the denial.  The pre-action disclosure system is fundamental to the administration of justice as it allows both parties to use a “cards on the table” approach, thereby allowing each side to critically assess the merits of their respective cases rather than “ambushing” each other with evidence at trial.  The result is increased cooperation and settlement (or abandonment) of claims without the need to go anywhere near a court.  Claims which fall out of the portal still proceed under that protocol.

That system worked because the Defendant Insurer had to investigate, confirm its liability decision and disclose documentation if necessary.  However, under the online system the liability decision has already been made within the portal.  The insurer’s response on the portal will be all of one line summarising why they do not think their insured is to blame for the accident, whereas previously they would have sent a lengthy letter setting out a full response and accompanied by evidential proof.  So when liability is denied, and the claim falls out of the portal, the insurer then has a further three months to investigate; but they do not need it because investigations have concluded already with a liability denial.  The result?  A kind of claims black-hole of forgotten law and stagnant cases, where a liability decision has already been made but the clock is ticking towards a pointless deadline without any progress being made by either side.

Let me demonstrate with an example.  I am currently acting for a person who sustained personal injuries in an accident when she collided with the rear of the Defendant’s vehicle.  Yes, you heard me right, she drove in to the rear of another vehicle.  However, in this case my client states that she was in heavy traffic when the Defendant “nipped in” to a space in front of her from the left lane, within the stopping distance that she had left from the car in front.  When that car was forced to brake so was the Defendant, but my client had no space left to act as a buffer.  She therefore blames the Defendant for the accident.  It is, by any stretch of the imagination, a tricky case.

Understandably, the Defendant insurer has denied liability.  Their response simply states that my client ran in to the back of theirs.  I know that…I told them as much in my Claims Notification Form.  The response is pointless and irritating.  It does nothing other than state the obvious, and does not deal with the liability issues (i.e. whether their insured changed lanes) at all.  Despite repeated emails and telephone calls attempting to elicit at least a basic version of events from their client, and despite them sending me a “witness statement” from an independent witness which is of no use to anybody, they have now confirmed that they will be passing their file on to their Solicitors in order to issue Court proceedings.  I still have no idea whether their insured agrees that he changed lanes or not!

This is all to common in portal cases.  Where liability is accepted the case can settle quickly and easily.  When liability is denied, it is as if the insurer believes that they have already discharged their legal obligations in full by doing so.  The result is a raft of cases, such as the one set out above, which are caught in the ridiculous scenario of going to Court to argue the circumstances of the accident, without the Claimant having any idea why liability is denied!

My own view on the portal system is that it works pretty well, most of the time, for easy low value cases where liability is accepted early on.  But cases which fall out of the system are now actually dealt with far less efficiently with little or no cooperation between the parties.  The result is increased litigation, clogging up the Court sytem (ironically) with cases that would have previously settled by the exchange of dialogue between the parties.

The system has just expanded to include most kinds of personal injury claims.  It is too early to tell what the effects will be, but my own prediction is that we will see far more cases which would otherwise be capable of pre-action resolution being issued at Court.

 If you have been involved in an accident call David Mayor or any of our Personal Injury Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 975 2463, or contact us by email for free expert legal advice.

David Mayor

About David Mayor

David is Head of the Preston Office's Civil Litigation team and deals with all types of private Civil Court disputes. David’s blogs cover his expertise in all aspects of personal injury law from low value Road Traffic Accidents right through to complex large loss claims. David also writes and has a vast array of experience in Public Liability (trips and slips), Employer's Liability (accidents at work), and Motor Claims (motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents).
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