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Delays in Whiplash Reform and Future Effects on Cyclists

by Personal Injury Claims Blawg on September 13, 2018

In 2017, the UK government announced a sweeping reform focused on whiplash and personal injury guidelines to help combat unnecessary and costly compensation claims. Under the Civil Liability Bill, changes to compensation claims after a road traffic incident were to take place. In effect, the threshold for small claims court would increase from £1,000 up to £5,000, making it more difficult for individuals to recoup legal costs and claim an exorbitant amount for soft tissue injuries. While the reform is presented under a guise of good intentions, several believe it has downsides that impact a significant portion of non-motorist road users.

Cyclists represent millions of total road users each year, with more than 700,000 adults opting to use their bicycle as a means of transportation every day. With the influx of cyclists and motorists on the roadways, it is not surprising that road traffic accidents have been on a steady incline for the past several years. The unfortunate reality is that cyclists take the brunt of the damage when colliding with a vehicle, mainly due to the fact they have no protection surrounding them. However, despite the dangers cyclists face, the whiplash reform bill takes none of their unique positions as a road user into account. The proposed bill has now been delayed until 2020, which has given cyclists and advocates of vulnerable road users an opportunity to speak out.

Why the Delay

The most recent announcement relating to the whiplash reform proposal mentioned a two-year delay to its implementation. Moving from October 2018 to April 2020, the Ministry of Justice cited a need for extensive testing for users to ensure the bill would truly be beneficial. The claims process may now include an online portal which requires design and implementation that cannot feasibly be met by the fall of 2018. Additionally, the government wants to have the ability to measure the impact of the change in claims processing on a grand scale – something it cannot accomplish without additional time and resources. The idea is that the pushback will allow for a fairer system overall, but some are skeptical.

Many speculate the reason behind the pushback was the vast amount of scrutiny the Civil Liability Bill took on when originally proposed. Instead of breaking up road users into relevant categories for the purpose of compensation claims after road traffic accidents, everyone was lumped in together. In taking this approach, there is a sense of concern over how cyclists will fare after accidents that take place due to no fault of their own.

Cyclists and Vulnerable Road Users Unfairly Targeted

A group of cycle claims specialists in the UK explains the potential harm done to cyclists and other vulnerable road users should the reform move forward as proposed. Cyclists rarely experience whiplash as a result of a road traffic accident. Instead, they often have broken bones, head trauma, and extensive damage to their bike. Given the minimal number of whiplash cases in cyclist accidents, the new reform unfairly targets cyclists.

Additionally, cyclists are not likely to meet the new small claims court limit for compensation. An estimated 70% of cyclists do not have a claim that exceeds £5,000, meaning under the new reform, they will be forced to utilise the small claims court process instead of a civil court with legal representation. If they do retain legal counsel, the costs associated with representation is not included in their claim. Cyclists are then required to cover these expenses out of pocket, or go without. Because of the unique positioning of cyclists and their differentiators from motorists, the whiplash reform bill does nothing more than penalise them in the long run.

Potential Cost Reduction for Motorists

In a recent review of the whiplash reform, the government cited a potential reduction in costs for motorists as it relates to insurance premiums. Whiplash claims that are unfounded, according to government leaders, costs other road users more than £1 billion each year. Increasing the limit on small claims court thresholds for these claims means there will be fewer cases, and ultimately, less financial burden on big insurance companies. The idea is that with this reform, motorists will reap the cost savings through a trickle-down effect from a reduction in insurance company settlement costs, to the tune of £35 per year.

The cost savings that has the potential to reach individual motorists is a drop in the bucket for many. However, cyclists and other vulnerable road users stand to lose exponentially more in the process. With the recently announced delay in rolling out the reform, many hope speaking out against the unfair policies against cyclists can be rectified in time.

Image credit: Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr / Creative Commons Licence

Personal Injury Claims Blawg

Personal Injury Claims Blawg

PI claims blogger at PIClaimsBlawg
Personal Injury Claims Blawg is a personal injury law blog, inviting contributions from practitioners, PI law firms and legal academics across the UK, US and beyond. The post above has been published because of the high value associated with the author's work. Contact us if you'd like to get published today.
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