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The Accident Group's (TAG) founder Mark Langford is not known for his personal touch. Earlier in the year, an attempt at an interview with The Lawyer had to be called off after he became indisposed at the last moment. Not a problem, his PR guy said, we'll just send in his QC and you can attribute his words to the boss. Call us fussy, we replied, but it is a journalistic convention that the subject of a profile be in attendance for his own interview. So it's not surprising to learn that Langford's remote style applies to management: last week he fired 2,500 staff by text messages delivered to their mobile phones.
But news that TAG is to go the way of Claims Direct is shocking. Parent company Amulet Group has announced that it will go into administration, blaming its "continual battles with the insurance industry". There won't be that many tears spilt over TAG's collapse (other than the 700 law firms on their panel). For many claimant personal injury lawyers it replaced Claims Direct as a symbol of all that is wrong with litigation funding. As far as the insurers are concerned, the claims giant had long been viewed as the pantomime villain.
Outside of the industry, consumer groups have raised concern about TAG's hard sell tactics. In November, it was subjected to the attentions of the BBC's Watchdog, which told the story of Lee Loughman, "an ordinary man, living in an ordinary street" with "some extraordinary powers". "He can be in two places at once for a start, he can fall off kerbs while watching television, he can even be in bus crashes without leaving the house." It transpired that a TAG salesman had been caught on hidden camera cold-calling Lee following a bus crash that morning and exhorting him to put in a claim.
It was the issue of recoverability that did for the claims giant. Master Hurst's judgment two weeks ago, slashing its premiums from £997.50 to £450, would have been the final blow. TAG's collapse will be a disaster for accident victims. Tucked away in the policy small print it is clear there is "no guarantee that the premium or expenses can be recovered in whole or in part", with the exception of a minimum £500.
The collapse of TAG is also an upset for ministers who need an ethical claims company to emerge and make 'Access to Justice' a reality rather than an empty sound bite. Baroness Scotland said at the Association of Personal Injury conference: "I'm quite certain that provided claims management companies and similar intermediaries act responsibly and with probity they can expand access to justice for people with good claims." That's all very well, but they have to be able to give accident victims a fair deal and stay in business first.