Whiplash injuries can arise from motor accidents and can have debilitating consequences for those who suffer them. It is appropriate that people injured in motor accidents through no fault of their own should be able to claim compensation from the party which caused the injury.
This is the conclusion from the Transport Select Committee released a report last week which discussed the ongoing issues with whiplash claims, and in particular the impact whiplash claims have on insurance premiums. This statement will be welcomed by people suffering from whiplash and injury lawyers fighting their cause.
The apparent rise in fraudulent whiplash claims has meant that people suffering from genuine neck and back injuries as the result of a motor accident have been made to feel vilified. Richard Meggitt from the personal injury claim specialists Accident Solicitors Direct says, “It’s important to remember that in all the discussion about fraudulent claims, that there are people who have sustained a genuine whiplash injury in an accident which wasn’t their fault and they deserve to be compensated.”
Unreliable statistics fuel fraud claim drama
The fact that genuine claimants have been made to feel maligned has been exacerbated by the Government and the media quoting unqualified statistics and comments which state that the UK is the ‘whiplash capital of the world’ and that ‘up to 60% of claims’ might be fraudulent. Jack Straw is one of many MPs who have been outspoken in the media on the issue, stating, “…we need to act against those behind the bogus claims, and the middle men who exploit them.” However, despite coverage like this, the Transport Select Committee’s report states that there are no reliable statistics on fraudulent claims available. Instead of guesswork, the Committee states that there should be better quality data available so the Government can make an informed decision about how to handle fraudulent claims. The rise in whiplash claims which supposedly makes the UK ‘the whiplash capital of the world’ could in fact be because people now have a greater understanding of their legal rights and as the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ (APIL) response to the report states, “‘no win no fee’ agreements have aided access to justice.”
Greater evidence needed to make a claim
The unreliability of medical reports which accompany whiplash claims has fuelled suspicion over bogus claims and improving the reliability of these reports is one of the proposals set out by the Ministry of Justice. The Transport Select Committee’s report suggested that the Ministry of Justice should go further and “… require whiplash claimants to provide more information in support of their claim, such as proof that they saw a medical practitioner shortly after their accident.”
The Transport Select Committee also stated that in addition to this, the Government should also bring forward recommendations to shorten the time period in which people can claim for whiplash injuries. The report discusses having a cut-off date for when people suffering from whiplash can make a claim, however in as many as one in five cases, whiplash injuries can continue for longer than a year. Therefore, a cut-off date might have a negative impact on people who are suffering long term from whiplash related injuries and could create confusion for people who have received multiple injuries from a motor accident.
The report stated that much of the blame for the apparent rise in fraudulent claims lays with insurers, as some insurance companies settle cases without any medical evidence, which is likely to make it much easier for people to make a fraudulent claim. If new regulations are put in place then it’s likely that insurance companies will have much more stringent controls in place when dealing with a claim, including requesting medical evidence.
Transport Select Committee says no to the small claims court
The Transport Select Committee rejected the Ministry of Justice’s suggestion to switch most whiplash claims to the small claims procedure as this would mean limited access to justice for certain people, such as those not confident in representing themselves. Transferring whiplash claims to the small claims court could also create more opportunities to claims management companies which could make it harder to discourage fraudulent and exaggerated claims. Richard Meggitt comments, “Claims management companies have added fuel to the fire when it comes to bogus whiplash claims as in many cases, they simply don’t handle the claim correctly as they are not legally qualified and just sell claims to the highest bidder, which adds to the lack of transparency associated with whiplash claims.”
He concludes, “As a personal injury lawyer, I am pleased to read the changes the Transport Select Committee is proposing and that their report has clearly stated that the statistical ‘evidence’ commonly quoted has no truth to it. It’s positive to see that the Committee recognises that genuine claims should be recognised. We can only hope that the Ministry of Justice takes this report into account when it puts its policy together.”