Fears of accident exploitation rise

ALLEGATIONS that victims of motor accidents are being exploited by a growing number of unscrupulous solicitors are to be put to the Law Society this week.

Members of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (Mass) and the Motoring Uninsured Loss Recoveries Association (Mulra) are to meet Chancery Lane officials to discuss fears that solicitors are losing sight of their clients' needs in the rush to get business.

Traditionally, motorists have relied on legal expenses insurance to pursue claims.

But Mass and Mulra say solicitors are now offering insurance agents an alternative loss recovery package under which motorists are referred to them if they have a claim.

It is claimed solicitors, worried about not covering their costs in the settlement, will shy away from marginal cases, while some packages even make clients liable for the other side's costs if their claim is unsuccessful.

Mulra says insurance agents risk breaching their professional code of practice by offering such schemes. However, the schemes are tempting because agents can keep the signing-on fee; if they sell legal expenses the agents must pass on a premium to the specialist which provides of the policy.

The scheme is one of a series of new legal practices which have alarmed Mass and Mulra. They also allege solicitors are entering into referral arrangements with garages, whereby the garages pass on accident victims to solicitors despite the fact that crash victims already hold legal expenses insurance.

And the groups claim some lawyers are in league with unqualified uninsured loss recovery agents who take a cut of a victim's damages if they can settle without litigation but will pass on the case to solicitors if litigation proves necessary.

Mass spokeswoman Lona Hickson said: “It is a sad fact that the current climate is allowing those with little or no qualified experience to pursue claims on behalf of victims with a small print of exemptions and exclusion clauses.”

She added that the legal profession was in desperate need of clear guidance from the Law Society over the referral code.

“The present rules remain obscure and ambivalent and thus we are seeing the emergence of practices which may be considered somewhat close to the bone,” she said.

Suzanne Burn, secretary of the Law Society's civil litigation committee, described the meeting as an “information gathering session”.

“We are keeping a close watch on what is going on and are concerned about the implications for the public,” she said.