Do I have to use my insurance company's recommended solicitor?

Injured woman discussing injury claim with her solicitor

Following an accident, insurance companies may put injured people under pressure to use their recommended solicitors. Here's what you need to be wary of.

Your right to choose

Under the current 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 may automatically pass you over to a firm of solicitors they have an agreement with. These firms are known as insurance panel solicitors.

The panel solicitor might, however, 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 decide 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 states that they are unwilling to pass the claim over to another solicitor.

What's the problem with using an insurer's panel solicitor?

It is critical that your solicitor acts in your best interests only. There should be no conflict of interest where, for example, your solicitor feels commercial pressure from the insurance company.

Insurance companies usually refer personal injury claims to their panel solicitors in exchange for a referral fee (paid by the solicitor). This financial relationship might influence the insurance company's choice of solicitor.

Your claim should be supervised by a qualified solicitor. However, you may find that the day-to-day running of your claim is handled by a non-qualified caseworker. This makes financial sense for insurance company panel firms, which typically handle very large volumes of claims on very low margins.

Choosing an independent solicitor

By choosing your own solicitor, you can be sure that your solicitor will be acting in your interests alone. Your solicitor will not be dependent on an ongoing stream of work from an insurer and as such, should not be commercially compromised.

Choosing a specialist solicitor

Ideally, you should instruct a specialist personal injury solicitor rather than, as opposed to a generalist who helped you buy your home, or drew up your will.

You should also choose a personal injury solicitor experienced in your type of claim. A solicitor who mostly handles medical negligence claims, for example, may not be your best bet if you were injured in a road accident.

You should be confident that your chosen solicitor has a track record that gives you the best chance of winning your claim.

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.

Read more:

How do I find the right injury solicitor?

Will the insurance company pay an independent solicitor's legal fees?

Yes, they have to. Insurance companies sometimes try to refuse paying 'freedom of choice' solicitor's legal fees on the grounds that they are higher than the fees charged by their own panel solicitor.

However, a recent court decision (Brown-Quinn & Another v Equity Syndicate Management Limited & Another (2011) EWHC 2661) rejected this interpretation. As long as your claim is covered by your Legal Expenses Insurance (known as Before the Event Insurance (BTE)), your insurance company must pay your freedom of choice solicitor's reasonable fees.

Quittance's panel 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, contact us today.

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher