Lawyers shield clients against costs

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The Independent Online
The Law Society launches an insurance scheme today to protect people involved in personal injury cases from being landed with big legal bills.

The scheme is designed to ensure clients who employ lawyers on a "no win, no fee" basis are not left with their opponents' legal fees to pay if their case fails.

Previously, although clients employing lawyers under the so-called conditional- fee system were in no danger of having to pay their own lawyers unless they won their case, they were still potentially liable for their opponents' often substantial costs if they lost.

Under the new scheme, Accident Line Protect, clients will be insured for a fee of pounds 85 against having to pay their opponents' fees, even if their case fails. They are also insured against having to pay other expenses, such as court charges and fees for expert witnesses. Up to pounds 100,000-worth of protection is available and there is no excess to pay.

The insurance scheme will be available from specialist personal injury solicitors who are members of Accident Line, a national telephone helpline for personal injury victims.

Under the conditional fee system, a client can agree to pay his solicitor a higher fee than normal, but only if he wins the case. Conditional fees are becoming commonplace with driving-related, work and sporting injuries, and the Law Society believes the system may be used increasingly in claims for damages for post-traumatic stress disorder and repetitive strain injury.

Sceptics have warned that the system may make people more inclined to resort to legal proceedings and result in a situation where plaintiffs, encouraged by "ambulance-chasing" lawyers, clog up the civil courts with apparently frivolous claims, while juries respond by often awarding huge sums in compensation.

Supporters say conditional fees will give access to justice to people who would otherwise not have been able to afford it.