What Does The Future Hold For Whiplash Injury Claims?
24th June 2013
Recently, the government announced it intends to cut down on bogus whiplash injury compensation claims, suggesting that this causes insurance premiums to rise. The Transport Committee and the Ministry of Justice recently held a consultation on this issue, saying that while genuine whiplash injury claims should still be able to go ahead, there are a number of “fraudulent and exaggerated” cases in the UK.
It is difficult to tell whether or not this is accurate. While reputable motor vehicle accident solicitors would refuse to represent a client who they believed to be lying about their injuries, the government recently described the UK as the “whiplash capital of the world”. The Transport Committee would like to ascertain whether this statement is valid, although the phrase has already entered common parlance.
Is the UK really the whiplash capital of the world?
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) pointed out that a massive three-quarters of all the UK’s personal injury claims are due to whiplash, which is the highest proportion in Europe. Furthermore, almost 1,200 whiplash injury claims are made every day, which is six times more than the number of people that apply for accident at work compensation.
Another startling statistic favoured by the government is the suggestion that the number of personal injury claims made following motor vehicle accidents rose by 60 per cent between 2006 and 2012, while the number of actual road traffic accidents fell by 20 per cent over this timeframe.
Aviva claimed that whiplash and other car accident compensation payouts are adding £118 to the average person’s car insurance bill, with insurers paying out a yearly total of £3 billion and dealing with 550,000 claims annually.
Aviva also claims that many people who receive car accident compensation do not spend the money they receive on medical expenses. The company polled 400 claimants and revealed that only around one-third of recipients spent their payout on medical expenses. Instead, 12 per cent used it to purchase luxury items and nine per cent went on holiday with the cash.
The ABI called for urgency in the government’s response to this issue, arguing that every week brings another 10,000 whiplash injury compensation claims. “Our roads are safer, yet every day over 1,500 whiplash claims are made,” the organisation’s Head of Motor and Liability James Dalton said. According to the ABI, whiplash adds £90 to the average person’s car insurance policy, representing 20% of all premiums.
Whiplash injuries – is it hard to tell the real from the fake?
One of the problems with whiplash is how difficult it is to diagnose. Generally, doctors determine if someone has whiplash based on a description of their symptoms, with more detailed tests only deemed necessary if bone damage is suspected.
Furthermore, scientists have found that it can be difficult to tell how severe or long-lasting a person’s whiplash will be. While some people with apparently severe tissue damage can make a full recovery in a short period of time, other people with less obvious injuries can suffer from pain and stiffness for the rest of their lives. Frequently, this pain can lead to depression and anxiety and can cause sufferers to experience problems at work and impact their ability to live their life properly. One study estimated that 12 per cent of people who sustain whiplash are still suffering six months after the incident.
One of the Ministry of Justice’s proposals involves setting up boards of medical experts to analyse more questionable whiplash claims, but it remains uncertain what form these tests will take. It suggested that these boards will result in a greater number of exaggerated and fraudulent claims being challenged.
Another controversial proposal is increasing the whiplash injury compensation small claims limit to £5,000, which would wipe out a large majority of claims. Currently, the threshold is £1,000 and statistics from insurers reveal that the overwhelming majority of cases involve payouts of less than £5,000. This initiative would be likely to significantly reduce the workload of solicitors. People would be likely to go to the small claims court without representation, which could result in people accepting far smaller payouts than they deserve for their pain and suffering. Many cases could end up with a poor victim representing themselves against a team of highly-paid insurance industry lawyers.
Solicitors may be able to come up with a number of ways around these issues, such as by pushing for the legalisation of contingency fees or by advertising damage-based agreements. Many practices are already amending their operations to deal with this eventuality.
The Transport Committee stopped receiving written submissions about whiplash injury compensation on April 15th, and until a further statement is made, it is impossible to tell which way they will turn.
Whatever happens, whiplash injury claims might look a lot different in the future!