15 Jul 2015
NIHL Claims Shake-Up
You will probably have read over the last couple of weeks that the Association of British Insurers (ABI), has renewed its call for yet another shake-up in the industry, this time where noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is concerned.
The ABI first made its claim that thousands of people are being given false hope of compensation pay outs for industrial deafness, blaming greedy claims management companies and opportunistic litigators seeking to replace whiplash-based cases as their cash cow, back in 2013. Its latest assertion, that opportunistic claims for NIHL have led to a significant increase in compensation in recent years, has been coupled with a plea to the Ministry of Justice to introduce a fixed-fee regime and expand the remit of the existing MedCo portal to include such cases.
In a stats-packed report, the ABI cites evidence that since 2012, more than 200,000 claims for NIHL have been submitted but less than a fifth have been eligible for compensation meaning that the time taken to resolve genuine claims is lengthening. It goes on to state that, overall claims for NHIL being increased by 189% between 2011 and 2014 and that on average, for every £1 paid in compensation to a successful claimant, £3 is paid out in legal costs to the claimant’s lawyers. As one might imagine the report and the ABI’s call to action has been met with indignant opposition by the claimant legal fraternity who are annoyed by the suggestion that they are simply creating cases and progressing anything less than justifiable claims through the courts. Chris Chatterton, Commercial Director explains: “I’m not surprised many lawyers are frustrated by yet another attack on their integrity. No solicitor that I’ve ever dealt with knowingly takes on a case that they believe is inherently flawed. The vast proportion of failed cases occurs because the quality of medical evidence provided is sub-standard or because the claimant’s hearing loss cannot be linked to the workplace.”
“Personally, I’m not against the idea of fixed fees per se, but the level has to be appropriate. NIHL, indeed any industrial disease, is hard to prove. Claims are complex, they take time and they involve thorough and expensive medical investigation. But people that have previously worked in noisy environments without the right protection do deserve to be compensated. As for the idea of MedCo’s remit being extended to provide insurers with the reassurance that law firms and reporting organisations are financially independent of the experts conducting the required tests, I’m not convinced. I think there are more pressing problems for the portal’s management to address before they could consider expansion.” “In any case, the current system works well. Rather than being seen as a problem, the number of failed cases should be seen as a positive indicator by insurers. It means fraudsters are rooted out. It means only the most medically deserving claims progress. And it means the standards for medical evidence gathering and reporting – our speciality – are rising all the time.” “Where I do agree with ABI is that there are still too many insufficiently qualified audiologists, carrying out unsuitable audiograms in non-clinical surroundings.
That’s why we are at the forefront of the drive to improve medical evidence gathering and reporting and why we have set the benchmark for the industry by ensuring the most rigorous of standards are applied.” “We operate an innovative audiogram screening service enabling NIHL lawyers to utilise the results of sophisticated air conduction testing together with bone conduction testing, delivered by experienced audiologists in soundproof facilities, under the correct ambient noise conditions, to determine levels of hearing loss, frequency configuration and crucial diagnostic information upon which more accurate case prospects can be determined. And after this filter has been applied, claimants participate in audiogram tests and ENT examinations while we source the supporting documentation to prove the client’s claim – things like employment records, HMRC schedules and medical records.” Chris concludes: “There will probably always be arguments between insurers and lawyers as to legal costs and there might be a role in future for fixed fees and the use of a centralised claims portal in future but, right now, the single most important thing we can do as an industry, is to adopt a zero tolerance approach to poor quality evidence.”