Brett Dixon APIL president. APIL exists to fight to preserve the rights of people who are injured by negligence. I feel very strongly that preserving the rights of injured people should be the concern of every member of society. Those doing the groundwork for injured people are personal injury practitioners, many of whom are APIL members.
The association was established in 1990 by a group of barristers and solicitors who wanted to give injured people a voice. Today, our 3,000 members are dedicated to making a tangible difference to the lives of injured people. APIL campaigns for improvements in the law, promotes safety so that needless injuries can be prevented, trains its members to develop expertise in the field, and provides a communication network for its members. We believe passionately that victims of negligence deserve committed, well-trained lawyers to support their right to justice.
Over the last 27 years, the association has grown to become the leading, most respected organisation in the field. We approach the need for redress in the legal system with tenacity and persistence.
For example, it took six years of lobbying and legal battles before finally, the discount rate for personal injury claims was changed earlier this year. For too many years, the discount applied to the damages of the most severely injured people did not reflect the economic climate. The compensation needed to care for these people would run out, unless they managed to gamble successfully the compensation on risky investments which no-one should have to do. Now that the way in which the rate is calculated is under scrutiny, one of APIL’s top priorities is to persuade the Government that the formula we have for deciding the rate is fair and accurate. It is functional, of course, so long as a review of the rate is performed regularly. The fact that the rate plummeted when it was finally reviewed after 16 years demonstrates that it was very overdue. It has been a hard-fought battle to keep the focus on the fact that the people the rate affects are suffering life-long, life-changing injuries. Insurers have got away with undercompensating this vulnerable section of society for too long.
We campaigned for many years for a fund of last resort for workers who could not trace the insurers of the employers who had injured them. The scheme for mesothelioma victims was finally introduced in 2013. This campaign was fought alongside colleagues from charities and unions. APIL has a policy of working with like-minded people and organisations in its campaigns, and is privileged to do so. It does not go far enough, however, and we now have the task of working towards a scheme which ensures all workers who are suffering illness but cannot obtain compensation are supported.
APIL also stands up and intervenes where it needs to, as ensuring that the nuts and bolts of the system work for injured people is essential. APIL’s intervention in Qadar v Esure, for example, helped to make sure that cases which come out of the claims portal and into the multi-track are not subject to fixed costs. Our intervention in Broadhurst v Tan helped to ensure that if a claimant beats his own offer to settle, he is not subject to fixed costs. The case also has wider implications for the control of bad behaviour. Our intervention in Yates v HMRC and APIL was about safeguarding the smooth running of the most serious asbestos-related disease cases by ensuring that families of deceased employees could obtain details of work histories.
The association’s work spreads across all UK jurisdictions. Our work in Scotland has been a marathon rather than a sprint, which is often the case. APIL has made regular contributions to the legislative process for years. Pre-action protocols are now compulsory for personal injury claims north of the border, for example. This is the result of work on the Civil Courts Review. While we were ultimately unable to change the direction of the resulting legislation to increase the Sheriff Court limit from £5,000 to £100,000, many other narrower arguments were successful and make a big difference to the way in which cases are won.
Membership and accreditation
Running along the backbone of APIL are training and membership services, which are all about making sure the people on the ground, the lawyers, are doing the best possible job for injured people.
All APIL members subscribe to a code of conduct and consumer charter, to reassure people about the service they can expect from members.
Benefits of membership include a network of information including online forums and information exchange and subsidised training courses, as well as business support services such as the directory of experts. APIL has a network of 15 regional groups which meet regularly and provide a platform for networking. The same goes for our 15 special interest groups, where specialists in transport claims, or abuse claims, for example, can meet, network, and exchange information.
Our members also carry out 2,000 online expert witness searches every month on APIL’s directory of experts. We have more than 700 experts in the directory, covering more than 280 categories including orthopaedics, health and safety, and psychiatry.
The APIL accreditation scheme was established in 1999. Members can gain individual accreditation or an accreditation for their firm. Injured people can look out for the “APIL accredited” quality mark so they know that the lawyer they choose has expertise and experience, and their best interests at heart.
To be accredited, they must satisfy specific and extensive criteria providing evidence in their competency and experience in handling personal injury claims. Many accredited members specialise in a particular type of claim such as clinical negligence, brain injury, spinal cord injury, asbestos disease, occupational illness and overseas injuries and illnesses. We have developed competency standards for these areas, and members who are already accredited can apply for one of the specialist standards.
The association runs its own programme of more than 120 training events nationwide in subjects ranging from advanced clinical negligence updates to dental negligence. We also run specialist conferences, including those on elderly client care, military claims, child abuse claims, and brain and spinal injury. The association is also running an increasing number of webinars, so members can continue their training, and keep up with the requirements of their accreditation, without leaving the office.
I am involved personally in delivering some of that training. Ensuring those who represent injured people have the most up to date and relevant skills possible complements all the other work APIL does to support the needs of injured people and their families.
Promoting best practice
In every case, APIL’s members are encouraged to consider whether rehabilitation is appropriate. The aim is for members to recognise that in order to achieve the best possible outcome for an injured person, it usually means seeking rehabilitation as well as financial compensation.
Research has shown that in many cases rehabilitation can help injured people recover more quickly, have a better quality of life and return to work sooner. Rehabilitation can be the key to returning the injured client to the same position in which he would have been, were it not for the negligence of the defendant.
APIL developed the Rehabilitation Code to facilitate dialogue and collaboration between claimant lawyers and insurers in negotiating rehabilitation services for claimants. The injured person is put at the centre of the process and the need for rehabilitation is addressed as a priority. The code expects the claimant’s lawyer and compensator are to work together on a collaborative basis to address the injured claimant’s needs from the very beginning, with an expected early notification of the claim and exchange of information.
APIL has been working with the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and a number of key insurers over the last ten years to put a process in place for dealing with higher value cases that encourages collaboration resulting in continued liaison, case planning, and the narrowing of issues in dispute. The result of this joint work is the Serious Injury Guide. The introduction of cost budgeting recognised that costs is not a ‘one size fits all’ model, and the Serious Injury Guide tackles poor behaviour and in turn controls cost.
The future for injured people
Injured people have many challenges facing them. At the time of writing, APIL is ready for the Government to resurrect reforms to whiplash claims, and also proposals to extend the small claims court limit for road traffic injuries.
The association’s crusade for reform of the law on bereavement damages will continue, as well as that for reform on the law on psychiatric harm. The law on both issues is are outdated and restrictive, and fails to reflect modern society.
The appetite for a fixed recoverable costs regime continues and APIL is working to make sure any change is workable. There is far more at stake than the numbers. A system must be efficient before cases can run effectively, and fairly, in a fixed costs environment. For example, the cost of clinical negligence claims will never fall unless the NHS Resolution’s bad practice is brought under control. It is pointless to impose fixed costs for clinical negligence work without fixing the process first.
And we will continue to provide top quality training courses so our members are ready for whatever their clients must face.
For more information, visit www.apil.org.uk Follow APIL campaigns on Twitter at @APIL and APIL training at @APILtraining.