Do I have to use the insurance company's solicitor?

Under European legislation you are free to choose your own personal injury solicitor, even if your insurance company tries to persuade you otherwise.

If your car or household insurer is covering the cost of your legal claim, they will automatically pass you over to a firm of solicitors they have an agreement with. These are known as 'insurance panel' solicitors.

The panel solicitor may not be the best person to handle your claim. If you are not happy with your insurer's choice of solicitor, you do not have to agree. The Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations 1990 allow you to choose which solicitor will be appointed in respect of any proceedings conducted on your behalf. You are free to switch to a 'freedom of choice' solicitor at any time - even if your insurer is unwilling to pass the claim over to someone else.

The problem with panel solicitors

Whoever acts for you should represent your best interests. If you are fully confident that the panel solicitor will do this, that is fine.

However, insurance companies often agree to pass all their personal injury claims to the solicitors on their panels in exchange for a referral fee paid by the solicitor. This financial relationships dictates the choice of solicitor, not whether the solicitor is the right person for your type of claim.

While a qualified solicitor should always supervise your claim, you may find that the day-to-day running of your claim is handled by a non-qualified caseworker. This makes financial sense for panel firms, who typically handle very large volumes of claims. However, your claim may not receive the personal attention it deserves, and you may be left feeling ignored or disappointed.

In addition, the panel solicitor may be based a long way from where your live. All your conversations will take place over the telephone or via email, not face to face. This may not suit your requirements, especially if you have mobility or communication issues and would prefer your solicitor to visit you at home or in the hospital.

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Choosing an alternate solicitor

You should always chose a specialist personal injury lawyer rather than, for example, the solicitor who bought your house or drew up your will.

You should also choose a personal injury solicitor experienced in your type of claim, for example, medical negligence claims or road traffic accidents. Don't be afraid to shop around and contact several solicitors before choosing the one that is right for you. National bodies such as Headway and the Spinal Injuries Association can help you locate a solicitor who has specialist knowledge in the type of injuries you have suffered.

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Will the insurance company meet my freedom of choice solicitor's legal fees?

Insurance companies sometimes refuse to pay a freedom of choice solicitor's legal fees on the grounds that they are higher than the fees charged by the panel solicitor.

A recent court decision (Brown-Quinn & Another v Equity Syndicate Management Limited & Another (2011) EWHC 2661) rejected this interpretation. As long as the claim is covered by your legal expenses insurance, your insurance company must pay your freedom of choice solicitor's reasonable fees.

Quittance's solicitors are experienced in handling claims covered by Legal Expenses Insurance. For a free initial consultation, and advice on how to negotiate with your insurance company, telephone or email Quittance today.

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