'Panic and pay' fears

The Woolf reforms threaten the UK with a spate of American-style bad faith litigation, insurance lawyers are warning.
Martin Bruffell, president of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and Berrymans Lace Mawer's head of personal injury, says that because the reforms limit the timescale of insurers' investigations to three months, they will be under pressure to settle for convenience sake, rather than on legal grounds.
In the US, this has exposed insurance companies to huge law suits by policy-holders forced to pay higher premiums to cover these so-called “panic and pay” settlements.
Bruffell has criticised Woolf as “a breeding ground for bad faith litigation to cross the Atlantic”. He says in Groom vs Crocker (1939), where an insurer's solicitor was not allowed to admit negligence for the sake of convenience, the UK has a precedent that will allow US-style claims.
“There is already a trend towards settling cases on economic grounds. This could be exacerbated as Woolf lengthens the odds on a successful defence due to the shortening of investigation time,” Bruffell says.
Despite pressure from claimant's lawyers, who could “tactically exploit” the reforms by thoroughly investigating claims before notifying insurers, he says companies must “properly investigate and take a positive view over liability”.