Litigation reforms could check rising fees for GPs

Government plans to reform civil litigation rules may help prevent spiralling legal costs driving up the cost of medical indemnity, according to medical defence organisations.

Both the Medical Defence Union (MDU) and the Medical Protection Society (MPS) back moves to end the 'disproportionate' legal costs awarded to patients in certain cases, which are often much higher than any compensation payout.

In one case cited by the MDU, a patient was paid damages of £8,000 but their lawyers' costs totalled £62,000. This fee included a 90 per cent success fee and an additional insurance premium of £18,375.

The government's consultation on civil litigation funding proposes that the system is changed so that claimants are expected to fund their solicitors' 'success fee' from any damages awarded.

The MDU also wants to see lawyers' fees, which drive up legal costs, capped.

Jill Harding, head of claims at the MDU, said the current system was unfair. 'The MDU wholeheartedly supports the changes proposed which address the problem of excessive and disproportionate costs, without affecting the ability of patients to seek compensation when they have been negligently harmed.'

Emma Hallinan, director of claims and litigation at the MPS, said lawyers receive more than patients in 72 per cent of claims. 'We would be disappointed if these reforms were not implemented as a package.'

But she warned: 'Any rules stemming from the reforms have to be clear and simple to avoid satellite litigation - a lack of clarity and guidance could lead to greater litigation and increased costs, which would obviously undermine the aims of the reforms.'

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