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LONDON -- Premiums for certain commercial liability coverages may rise as a result of U.K. government recommendations.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State for Health Frank Dobson issued new guidelines to National Health Service Trusts to help them more easily recoup the costs of treating accident victims.

Although the state-backed medical providers are able to recover up to 2,949 pounds ($4,859) per case in treatment costs under the Road Traffic Act 1988, few have done so because of the complex administration involved.

Mr. Dobson announced measures that will simplify the collection process and said new legislation pushing the onus for paying the medical costs onto insurers will be introduced "when Parliamentary time permits."

No one is sure how much money is due to the Trusts under this legislation, said a spokesman for the Assn. of British Insurers, though the government has estimated the amount that can be claimed at 100 million pounds ($164.8 million) each year. Last year, NHS Trusts recouped just 13.9 million pounds ($22.9 million), according to government figures.

Spread over the 25 million motorists in the country, an extra 100 million pounds in costs to insurers will amount to a very small rise in personal automobile premiums, said the ABI spokesman.

But the move may be an indicator that the government will look to insurers to reimburse more of the medical costs that the NHS Trusts now incur.

"The general view on this sort of thing is, yes, in the future there is some chance that employers' liability insurers will be asked to pay relevant hospital costs," said Danny Gibson, employers' liability underwriter at Octavian Syndicate Management Ltd.

A Law Commission consultation paper on the costs of treatment for personal injury cases issued last year suggested that NHS Trusts should recoup all medical costs where a "tortfeasor" or "legal wrongdoer" -- an employer, for example -- was involved in the injury. At the time, liability specialists estimated that up to 600 million pounds ($988.6 million) could be recouped from the insurance industry.

If this happens, it will mean that insurers' costs and reserves will have to be increased, said Mr. Gibson, and those changes "will have to be reflected in premiums."