MASS Annual Conference 2011: An Overview
It is certainly all change in the world of Road Traffic Personal Injury Law, a subject that dominated the main discussions at this year’s Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) Annual Conference on 11 November.
This year’s conference was an important one for MASS, as it marked its 20th anniversary. Lyons Davidson’s Chairman Bernie Rowe (who was also the first Chairman of MASS) drew upon his significant involvement and experience to explore the growth and historic changes that have occurred over the period.
The current Chair of MASS Donna Scully outlined the topics for discussion throughout the day, with the main focus on preserving and enhancing access to justice at a proportionate cost. The issues for solicitors under the spotlight at the conference included Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations and the way in which the government will interpret them. There was much concern expressed about the civil litigation landscape significantly changing, without allowing the new road traffic accident process introduced in April 2010 time to ‘bed in’.
Some of the other points of debate included:
- Removal of recoverability of costs and success fees: there is much concern over whether this will lead to a reduction of damages for the most seriously injured victims and a ‘one size fits all’ approach;
- Replacement of ATE (after the event) premiums with QOCS (qualified one way costs shifting): whether this is likely to reduce the amount of claims being made if it proceeds;
- The proposed ten per cent uplift in damages levels: thought to be insufficient, bearing in mind that damages levels are already low. This, coupled with the other planned changes, did not seem reasonable to those present at the conference.
The banning of referral fees was another hot topic of debate, introduced by Keynote Speaker Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee. She stated that changes would be necessary within the industry in order to bring the cost of insurance premiums down for younger people. She was not so clear on how this could be achieved, but felt it would be possible without affecting access to justice for road accident victims.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) was also discussed at length during a panel session, inviting members from both solicitors’ and insurers’ sides of the fence to give their views. It is clear that there is much speculation from both camps, but the general feeling was that the bill seems likely to introduce substantial changes. There was further discussion about the future of the RTA portal and the success that this has brought to date; the general consensus was that it is working well.
Charles Plant, Chairman of the Solicitors Regulation Authority then took to the podium to discuss the Outcomes Focused Regulations introduced in October. He explained that these fall into line with other changes in the legal world, in that they concentrate less on formal rules and regulations for solicitors and, instead, set out a number of general principles. He emphasised that it is extremely important for all lawyers to be aware of the content of the new regulations, which underpin the way in which they all work.
A presentation from the MASS Training Department explored low-velocity impact claims and how to deal with them. The speakers explained that large numbers of this type of dispute are raised by insurers and, therefore, it is important that all personal injury RTA lawyers be aware of the arguments and how to respond to them.
The final discussion of the day concerned fraud. Solicitors and insurers took the opportunity to discuss their approaches to fraud and what can be done to identify fraudulent claims in the future. The discussion highlighted that fraud is, unfortunately, on the increase and therefore, it needs to be at the forefront of the mind when looking at claims. Everyone agreed that there is a need for solicitors and insurers to work together with the common interest of preventing fraudulent claims from proceeding.
The conference dealt with all the major issues of the moment and frank views were given by solicitors and insurers alike. It seems that there are very different viewpoints in relation to the topics raised and the future is still uncertain. If one thing was certain, however, it is that lawyers in this sector are ready to deal with any new changes that are introduced.
Posted on Dec 9th, 2011 by Lyons Davidson