The UK has the highest number of whiplash claims in the whole of Europe. To give you some idea, here in Britain, whiplash claims make up a total of 75% of all personal injury claims whereas in France they account for only 3%. And whilst the number of car accidents has fallen by 23% in the past five years, the actual number of whiplash claims has risen by 70%. Hardly surprising then that the government are now acting to prevent the enormous amount of fraudulent whiplash claims that are pushing the costs of everyone’s motor insurance up. Improvements in car safety, such as crumple zones, passenger air bags and headrests, mean that the chances of personal injuries should be falling, and yet there are an estimated 1,500 whiplash claims in the UK every day. The problem is that insurers will often settle whiplash claims out of court as it is cheaper to do this, rather than fight a fake or exaggerated case as proving the condition is difficult at best.
With this in mind, the Government are now working with insurers to tackle the rising insurance costs, due to fake whiplash claims, and cut the £2 billion annual cost of these claims – which adds an overall average of £90 to the cost of everyone’s car insurance policy. So how are they going to go about this? Well, evidently, new claimants who purport to be suffering from whiplash will now have to visit independent doctors rather than their own GPs. This means a more thorough scrutiny of their symptoms and an emphasis on the claimant having to prove their problem. The Government believe that a real part of the whiplash problem is the referral system in which third party companies contact people who have been involved in accidents and actively encourage them to make a claim, whereas before they would not have thought of doing so. Fees from such referrals have now been outlawed and the Government have criticised insurers for bemoaning the fact that whiplash claims have risen, whilst accepting these referral fees in the first place. Solicitors have also come under fire for their ‘no win no fee’ claim incentives to prospective clients which effectively encourage people to blatantly ‘make up’ medical injuries and as whiplash is one that is medically the most difficult to prove, it is the one that is most often used.
Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport summed up the problem by stating, “There is no one silver bullet for tackling fraudulent whiplash claims but we have already taken decisive action by banning referral fees, reforming no-win no-fee rules and cracking down on fraud. This latest summit shows we continue to work closely with the insurance industry and consumer groups to tackle the compensation culture and find more ways of bringing down the cost of insurance premiums. Building on what we have already achieved together, we are doing everything possible to drive down the cost of motor insurance and by the end of the year, when we and the industry have completed further work, we will be able to bring forward yet more proposals to do this.”
A further problem are ‘staged’ motor accidents in which a car brakes quickly in front of you, this forces you to then smash into the back of it, and as we all know, if you are the one who hits the back of a car, you are responsible but the ‘innocent’ who had to brake sharply will then also claim for whiplash as a personal injury. Police have actually highlighted ‘cash for crash’ blackspots in certain loactions such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton, Blackburn, Oldham and Birmingham. And incredibly, it will not only be the person driving that will claim, there will typically be four or five individuals in the braking car and they will all suffer from whiplash, what are the chances? As doctors know, diagnosing whiplash is particularly hard as there are no real physical symptoms, only what the patient will tell you and a quick search on the internet will give the claimant all they need to know about what to describe to the GP.
However, if the Government do manage to clamp down on fraudulant whiplash claims, does this mean that our insurance costs will automatically go down however? Let’s hope so.