Accidents at Work – The Trade Union Referral Myth

Even in these days of an alleged “nanny state” accidents at work continue to occur on a more frequent basis then we realise. I have been a Personal Injury Solicitor for 11 years and in the last 2 years have been primarily dealing with accidents at work.
I’ve been surprised, if not alarmed, at the number of negligence claims being pursued by employees against their employers due to the employers’ failure to comply with the strict regulations which are in place to ensure a safe place of work for us all.
In deciding to pursue a claim against their employer, the first thing the employee must consider is who to turn to for legal advice. Given the increase in advertisements by Personal Injury Solicitors in recent years, the issue of referral fees has become a common theme and an important factor when making this decision.
Some would have us believe, as Jack Straw MP has described, that payment of referral fees is a “racket” and a “dirty little secret”. This is not the case and it must be pointed out that referral fees are not only arrangements Personal Injury Checklist For Paralegals made between lawyers and insurance companies (specifically in relation to road traffic accident claims) – estate agents and trade unions often refer their customers onto law firms too and are awarded referral fees for this.
In respect of trade unions, specifically in relation to accidents at work – even if you are a member of a trade union you are not obliged to seek advice from a solicitor appointed by your trade union. It is one of the core duties of a solicitor to be independent and to advise clients of their best interests.
It is the case that organisations who introduce a client to a firm of solicitors, including When Do You Not Need A Lawyer trade unions, tend to restrict the client’s choice of firm of solicitors.
Obviously payment of referral fees increases the likelihood of an introducer insisting that a client use a particular firm. Some solicitors in the past have made arrangements with a particular union whereby the union referred large volumes of work with no referral fees being paid and the solicitors agreed to deduct and pay the union a percentage of the compensation awarded to each client.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority is of the opinion that transparency of the referral arrangement is vital to clients. If a firm is being recommended in return for a fee, or there is some other consideration taking place, then the SRA believe that clients should be made aware of this. Otherwise clients are unable to make a truly informed decision about who is best to assist them with their claim.
It is a common misconception encouraged by the Government that only Claimant Solicitors pay referral fees for work. This not the case as insurance companies and defendant firms also pay referral fees. In addition, the Government has an interest in this issue as it is a regular defendant paying out compensation as a result of negligence. Insurers also make profits when claims are not made.
The vital issue is to ensure the consumer has access to justice in being able to choose who they wish to represent them whether having been referred through a referral company or finding their own way to the right legal advice.

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