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Insurers cry ‘foul’ over rising claims of industrial deafness

BY Rachel | 2 June, 2014 | no comments

Claims for industrial deafness have surged in the past five years amid fears that it has become a new hunting ground for claims management firms and personal injury lawyers.

Days after the Association of British Insurers warned that industrial deafness had become a new “cash cow” for the legal profession, leading insurers have published figures that deepen such concerns.

RSA, operator of the More Than brand, said that it had received more than 800 new claims for industrial deafness every month last year, almost double the 450 a month coming in two years previously. The company, which believes that the system is being exploited, said that it rejected about 70 per cent of all of the claims that came in.

“Deafness is a major issue for the insurance industry,” a spokeswoman said. “It is certainly true that we have seen an increase in industrial deafness claims over recent years.

“We agree with the ABI that this is an area that claims farmers and fraudsters are actively targeting and it requires reform. We are doing all we can to combat this fraud, but believe that the government should be doing more.”

Aviva said that its deafness claims had risen from 2,400 in 2009 to 11,467 last year. At Axa, more than half of the insurer’s claims on employers’ liability insurance last year related to industrial deafness and claims volumes for the condition were double that of the previous year.

David Williams, managing director at Axa Insurance, said: “In the same way as whiplash-related injuries, the lack of a clear diagnostic framework has meant that deafness in the workplace can be used as the basis of exaggerated or fraudulent claims.

“We very rarely receive claims directly from individuals — the overwhelming majority come from solicitors — and it appears that a high proportion are speculative; 75 per cent of claims are not pursued once we have requested evidence of the injury or the claim is challenged.”

Central to the problem, according to insurers, are the high fees on offer to lawyers. Only last week, the ABI said that the average legal fee for a claimant lawyer for settling an industrial deafness claim last year was £10,500, compared with only £500 for a low-level whiplash claim. It also compared with the average compensation paid out to a sufferer of industrial deafness of £3,100, the ABI claimed.

In response, lawyers say that cases can be complex and claimants have to be allowed access to a proper civil justice system. John Spencer, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “Deafness is a serious problem with an impact on people’s social, family and working lives. Those who succeed in making a claim do so because negligence is proven.

“The onset of deafness can happen years after exposure to the noise which caused the harm, so identifying the employer responsible is not always straightforward. For solicitors these cases can be difficult, particularly when the responsible employer persists in denying liability.”