Injury claims plummet from more than 20,000 to 8,000 and some lawyers have trouble finding work

Australian claims drop in wake of legal reforms: injury claims plummet from more than 20,000 to 8,000 and some lawyers have trouble finding work

John McDonald

As a result of the reforms, the total number of claims in the territory of New South Wales dropped, from a record 20,784 in 2001 to just under 8,000 last year. “Time will tell just how long it will last but it’s certainly encouraging,” says Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association. In the state of Victoria, claims have also plummeted. Fergus Shiel reports in the Melbourne Age, that total claims there dropped from “hundreds of claims” two years ago to just 19 in the six months prior to April 29.

Many of the hardest-hit personal-injury lawyers work in rural areas. The New South Wales Law Society, for example, predicts that two in five suburban practices will close within the next year. The society also notes that much of the personal-injury cases throughout the country were handled by suburban firms prior to the enactment of the new laws. “Between limiting a person’s right to make a claim and preventing personal claims lawyers from advertising, [the reforms] have most definitely resulted in a significant loss of income for personal injury lawyers,” says Ben Cochrane, Legal and Policy Officer for the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association (APLA) in Sydney.

The reforms were undertaken in response to the demands of doctors and some members of the media alarmed at the rate of increase in premiums. The reform measures targeted three areas: liability claims, damages and a restructuring of overall claims procedures.

In addition to eliminating many of the delays involved in bringing on a civil case, Victoria’s Labor Party Government introduced a new series of conditions required before a plaintiff can sue. Based on guidelines by the American Medical Association, a system of impairment “thresholds” was introduced, in which medical experts assign percentile grades to specific injuries as a way of measuring an individual’s impairment level. Now, medical examiners must decide that a person has sustained injuries of at least 6 percent in eases of physical impairment and at least 9 percent in those of psychiatric claims before that person can file a claim. “The government’s aim was not so much to bring lawyers out of the equation, but to discourage minor, borderline claims and to bring far greater certainty to the law of negligence–for lawyers, the community and insurers “alike,” said Attorney General Bob Debus.

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