INSURANCE premiums are likely to increase as plaintiffs wield more bargaining power after yesterday's High Court judgment. Fees for third-party vehicle insurance and employers' liability could rise sharply and out-of-court negotiations now revolving around vehicle, workplace and construction accidents will take on a new tone, experts said last night. Compensation limits for loss of earnings were almost doubled and guidelines for damages for pain and suffering increased by 50 per cent in the judgment delivered by Mr Justice Cheung. General Insurance Council chairman Peter Dunn said the judgment could have severe repercussions on the industry. 'It affects the business of risk assessment and the likely costs to the companies, particularly for third-party motor insurance and employer's liability,' he said. 'We will have to review the judgment to see whether it represents a radical change to the industry or whether there are any exceptional circumstances in this case, and, of course, there could be an appeal. 'But if there is a radical change then the insurance companies will have to take such measures into their assessments.' Mr Dunn said the increases would set the new benchmark for out-of-court settlements, which make up the vast majority of cases. 'This would be in the minds [of plaintiffs and lawyers] when discussing settlements,' he said. He said premiums would not rise in exact proportion with the increases in damages because personal injury insurance was only one facet of companies' business. Insurance manager Alan Tang On said the judgment was likely to affect the insurance industry across the board. 'Such a precedent will affect all future cases and all those pending,' he said. 'I would expect that in time it will affect the premiums of all liability claims: employer's liability, motor accident insurance, industrial accident, and so on. 'It would also apply to all out-of-court settlements which make up the vast majority of all claims.' Mr Tang said out-of-court settlements in recent years had been increasing faster than inflation, but that Mr Justice Cheung's judgment would further increase awards and strengthen the bargaining power of plaintiffs.