Anger as firms sell crash details
Drivers suffering through rise in claims, says MLA
Northern Ireland's already notorious motor claims culture is being pushed to new extremes by personal injury lawyers and claims management companies, it has emerged.
As a result, our motorists are being hit by the highest premiums in the UK - and those are set to rise further still.
Statistics obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show that compensation claims made in Northern Ireland for serious neck or 'whiplash' injuries can fetch up to £265,000 - whereas in the rest of the UK the ceiling is around £86,000.
As well as this, nearly 12 times as many motor insurance claims end up in Northern Ireland courts as elsewhere in Britain.
Although the province has only 2.6% of the total number of cars registered in the UK, motorists here claim 5.4% of the total paid out in insurance claims - amounting to £447m.
The shocking figures are being driven upwards by claims management companies, who seek out 'victims' of motoring accidents and encourage them to claim.
They have an easy job locating them - because some insurance companies themselves have been selling the companies details of people involved in accidents.
And, in an increasing number of cases, motorists and passengers who reported no injuries whatsoever were still encouraged to claim for compensation.
A leading member of the Northern Ireland Justice Committee has now called for a ban on insurance companies here selling motorists' details to third parties, a legacy of the 'no-win-no-fee' culture introduced by the last Labour government.
Paul Givan has said he is concerned that the high number of spurious motoring claims - many influenced by the 'cold-calling' of people involved in accidents - has driven insurance premiums up by 40% over the past year.
Mr Givan, who chairs the committee, has urged Justice Minister David Ford to look at the possibility of introducing legislation to put the skids under a scheme that he claims works to the detriment of motorists in general.
"The sooner this practice is ended, the better it is going to be for law-abiding drivers," the DUP MLA said. "Drivers in Northern Ireland are suffering through an increase in premiums and this is something the Assembly urgently needs to look at."
As it stands, young drivers - whose insurance payments are now exorbitant - are being penalised, while experienced drivers, who have never made a claim, are being priced off the road.
Yet the overall number of car thefts and accidents is falling.
The number of crashes resulting in injury has also gone down by 30% over the last 15 years.
Safer roads should mean reduced insurance claims and lower premiums, but this is clearly not the case. Meanwhile, the hikes in the cost of insurance has led to an increasing number of motorists driving uninsured, thus depriving insurance companies of revenue which they can only claw back through existing customers.
The main reason for the massive hikes, however, is the increase in personal injury claims - which have gone up by a staggering 70% over the past decade.
This is bad news for the insurance industry because for every pound it pays out in compensation, it has to pay an extra 87p in legal fees. The only way it can recover that money is by increasing premiums.
In a statement, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said there is no place for fraudulent claims in the legal system, but people who are injured are entitled to claim compensation. The body added that it does not believe referral fees are to blame for rising car insurance costs.
- NI neck injury claims: £30,000 to £265,000
- Other UK neck injury claims: £14,000 to £86,000
- NI claims that go to court: 40%
- Other UK claims that go to court: 3.5%
- NI cost of claims (2005): £447m
- Rest of UK claims (2005): £8.24m
- Each year uninsured drivers cost innocent motorists: £500m
- That equals a hike per driver per premium: £30
- £1bn: the cost claims management companies add on to the cost of motor claims in the UK each year