Insurers everywhere, but where are the lawyers?

The Lord Chancellor’s decision this week to cut the discount rate used to calculate lump-sum payouts in personal injury (PI) claims from 2.5 percent to minus 0.75 percent was bad news for insurers but good news for those injured through no fault of their own.

But it was the Association of British Insurers and the wider insurance lobby that dominated the headlines, warning of big car insurance premium hikes for the public as a consequence. So where were the lawyers and injury client community in this media storm?

The media have widely reported that it will be Joe Public’s insurance costs that will take the hit from this move by the Ministry of Justice. The insurance industry got its message out quickly and ensured the story was that they have no choice but to increase their customers’ insurance next year. Of course, the reason they will have to raise the premiums has a lot to do with not wanting to see their profits drop, but that’s not the story being told in the media.

Nor is the other side of the story getting much airtime – that many people who suffer serious, often life-changing, injuries through no fault of their own will actually get a payout which reflects today’s cost of living thanks to the Justice Secretary’s reform.

The temptation for lawyers might have been to keep quiet to avoid being drawn into a public battle, but the consequence is the insurance sector gets the public onside by warning of the risk to their wallets – always a winning tactic when it comes to messaging.

The PI legal sector had a rare chance here to be on the side of angels and trumpet the cause of the PI victim community. Usually, PI law firms are seen as ambulance chasers and they may have missed their chance to tell the good news story here. Instead, media commentary from the legal sector that did get out into the media were footnotes to the message from the louder insurers.

Even a day after the announcement the story is how the insurers were ‘marching on the Ministry of Justice’ (code for having a meeting with the department to try and reverse the decision).

So what could the PI lawyers have done to dominate, or even get a fair share, of the headlines?

  1. In an ideal world, they would have known the Ministry of Justice was going to make the announcement and prepared a statement, though that depends on how effective their relationship or their representative body’s relationship is with the Ministry of Justice. To be fair, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers responded quickly, but it wasn’t enough.
  2. Law firms’ PR companies should have been targeting the right kind of media directly, starting with the major news outlets, with the clear message that the move would benefit victims.
  3. Arguably, the insurers have benefited from building strong links with the media over time, which paid dividends when they needed it. There’s no reason why the PI lawyers couldn’t have done the same.
  4. There’s nothing wrong with contacting media outlets who have already run a story to tell them your legal experts are available to comment on it. Online media regularly update stories as they develop, while broadcasters will often run a news story throughout the day and want fresh input and new angles.
  5. Law firms have a ‘bank’ of clients who could be potential case studies for the media and examples of why the change to the way compensation awards are discounted could benefit those in similar circumstances in future.

It’s not too late. The insurers are still gunning for a reversal of the policy change and are doing so publicly. They’ve even wheeled out the CBI to add weight to their cause.

This means there’s still time for lawyers to get the more positive message out there and stop the insurers from not only dominating the issue in the media but reversing these compensation changes as their lobbying efforts step up a gear.

There’s an opportunity for the lawyers to stand up for their clients – PI victims – in a very public arena and perhaps even dilute the perception that lawyers are out for themselves.

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