An article by Trenthowans discusses how Covid-19 will change the personal injury landscape. The article focuses on three areas: personal injury; vehicle repair and credit hire; and fraud. We discuss the article and the impact of Covid-19 on personal injury claims in the motor vehicle insurance space.
The lockdown had a twin effect on traffic volumes and accidents according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Traffic deaths fell but those drivers who stayed on the roads engaged in riskier behaviour leading to the highest fatality rates in 15 years.
The NHTSA reported the fatality rate jumped to 1.42 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled from April to June, or about 30%, the highest since 2005. However, overall traffic deaths fell 3.3% to 8,870 while traffic on U.S. roads fell by about 26%, or 302 fewer deaths for the same period in 2019.
The NHTSA’s study showed “drivers who remained on the roads engaged in more risky behavior, including speeding, failing to wear seat belts, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
Bottlenecks have also arisen as solicitors and client management companies have been impeded in their ability to receive instructions from and action new claims. Trenthowans analysis indicates that there will be near-term slowdown in issuance of claims as regardless of remote hearings, courts remain understaffed.
As there is less investment on the part of a party to a JSM or mediations, they tend to be less successful than their pre-Covid counterparts.
Processing has also been delayed due to claimants being unable to make themselves available for treatments or to attend medico-legal appointments. Systems either have not caught up to the new reality or certain aspects of treatment cannot be done remotely. Given that Covid-19 is seen as an emergency, few are willing to finance remote treatment and examinations when there is the expectation that in-person treatment and examinations will be resumed. So we should expect a continuation of backlogs.
Claimants who are injured may also suffer if it is proven that their work would have been disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdowns regardless.
Though costs of claims could rise, it is not inevitable that costs will be materially high.
Vehicle Repair and Credit Hire
Personal injury claims may occur within the context of vehicle repair and credit hire cases. As the supply of vehicle parts has been disrupted due to global lockdowns, alongside a reduction in the labour force, repair times and hire duration have increased. It behoves personal injury attorneys to investigate whether claims are justified in the context of furloughs and limited allowed movement. Because rate surveyors are still operational, their data can still be used to challenge rates.
With many people facing a great deal of economic pressure, there are fears of a rise in fraudulent claims. Insurers will need to be on guard for this.
Delays in whiplash reforms and litigant in-person portal may be further slowed down or even abandoned due to Covid-19, pushing back the cost savings that reformers desire to see.
Fraud can be combated in many ways, including social media checks, but other methods such as surveillance may not be possible. Fraudulent and exaggerated claims may not be the only thing that insurers will have to face: expect a resurfacing of older, previously repudiated claims.
Broadly, we should expect that parties are less willing to settle commercial settlements in appropriate cases because of the economic pressures they face.
It is clear that Covid-19 has had and will continue to have an impact on both insurers and practitioners in this changing landscape.