THE FULL impact of nationwide tort law reform is only now being felt, with trends being countered by a downward movement in premiums, according to a consumer watchdog report.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) fourth report monitoring public liability and professional indemnity insurance costs and premiums, issued on 18 February, reveals that in the first half of 2004, the average public liability insurance premium fell by 15 per cent. Average claims costs decreased by 11 per cent, and insurers’ financial performance from underwriting public liability insurance declined.
“This is the first sign of a downward movement in premiums,” said ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel. “These outcomes are counter to the trends observed in recent years, and could have been caused by a range of factors, including tort law reforms.”
There was a spike in the number of claims leading up to the tort reforms, said Samuel. ACCC data that analysed the number of personal injury writs served in Victoria and the number of civil claims lodged in New South Wales suggest claimants rushed to file claims with the courts before the reforms.
According to Samuel, these results suggest claims that ordinarily would have been filed in 2003 and 2004 were brought forward in 2002. “As a result, the net effect of reforms on the number of claims filed will only become evident over the next few years,” he said.
The previous trend was also reversed in professional indemnity insurance. The report found that the average premium had fallen by 17 per cent in the six months leading to 30 June 2004, despite average claims costs increasing by 21 per cent.