How will proposed government changes affect Whiplash Claims?

With whiplash accounting for 80% of the UK’s personal injury claims, the island has become known as the Whiplash Capital of the World. When this is compared to the mere 3% of French claims that are put down to whiplash, these figures become all the more astounding. Experts estimate that the prevalence of whiplash injuries in the UK drives the average car insurance premium up by £93, and politicians have given much thought and discussion to how best to control the surge of whiplash claims. Here is a breakdown of what is being planned and how it could affect future whiplash claims.

Are whiplash claims on the rise?

Our nation of weak necks has been causing an escalating problem for insurers and policyholders and now it has come to a head. Car insurance policies have reached an all-time high, with the average policy costing approximately £800 – a 14% increase in just two years. The widespread practice of claiming for minor or even non-existent injuries has ultimately ended up costing the population, leading the Government to devise a reform of compensation claims, which comes into effect this year.

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a fairly broad term and can relate to any injury sustained to the neck, bones, discs, muscles, nerves or tendons anywhere in the neck or back. When involved in an accident that involved sudden breaking or impact, it is common for a person’s head to be jerked backwards or sideways and then back again with similar force. This then causes swelling and inflammation and subsequent pressure on the on the nerves. Whilst whiplash is usually restricted to this kind of damage, on very rare occasions there can be damage to the bones in the neck too.

The trouble with whiplash is that it can be difficult to determine initially how serious the problem might be. Most cases seem to resolve themselves naturally after around 6-9 months, but unfortunately for some, the damage caused can be permanent.

Complications caused by whiplash

It is important for anyone who thinks they may have an whiplash injury to seek medical advice as soon as possible, as if left untreated, whiplash symptoms can in fact worsen as time goes by. The main physical symptoms of whiplash are neck pain, stiff neck, reduced mobility, headaches and even migraines. Due the the complex nature of whiplash injuries and the fact that a great number of muscles, ligaments and tendons can be affected, ignoring the pain and hoping it will just go away could spell disaster.

Without seeking the advice of a doctor or chiropractor, the chances of whiplash developing into a chronic condition are far higher and if there is a more serious injury at play, such as a herniated disk, a professional treatment and recovery plan is essential to preventing whiplash symptoms from getting any worse.  The kind of treatments and therapies on offer to treat whiplash can range from general massage to ease muscle tension and stress, to more specific physical therapy and chiropractic manipulation.

The hidden symptoms of whiplash

Headaches and migraines are often ignored by patients who have suffered whiplash because they don’t realise they are connected, but they are a very common and persisting problem in many whiplash cases. They are more of a secondary symptom, in that they are brought on due to muscle tension, fatigue, stress or other factors that we caused by the initial whiplash injury.

Many people also fail to seek necessary help for stiff necks and a generally reduced neck mobility, again assuming that over time the symptoms will disappear. Unfortunately, this can be completely the wrong approach as left untreated, symptoms could easily become more permanent and long-term, affecting future quality of life, ability to work and even the ability to have a restful sleep.

Fact vs Fiction

Due to the difficulty in realising the long-term effects of whiplash, there has been much made of the propensity for false claims to be lodged and whiplash compensation claims paid out to victims whose injuries were not really as serious or long-term as were made out. With the fear that a rise in false claims will drive up insurance policies and the fact that this creates more issues for those claimants who really do have a valid claim and are suffering from severe, life-changing or permanent damage, there has been growing pressure to review and reform the process for whiplash claims in the UK. Yet due to the ongoing discussions surrounding Brexit, this reform has taken a back seat, but some have indicated that this will resurface in 2018, with firm resolutions in place for a new and improved approach to managing whiplash claims.

The Solution

Many will be aware that the Government announced their ‘Reforming the Soft Tissue Injury (Whiplash) Claims Process’ last year, and that they plan to combat the ever-rising number of claims and corresponding insurance premiums by making changes to the way whiplash claims and their subsequent payouts are calculated. A new fixed amount that will be payable to claimants with injuries lasting less than two years is being introduced, which will help to regulate the cumulative amounts awarded. The reform also plans to increase the Small Claims Track Limit from £1000 to £5000 for road traffic accidents, which will  see the majority of claimants going through small claims court rather than through solicitors again helping to reduce the often hefty legal fees awarded in claims, to help cap the amount given to whiplash claimants and to also counter the rise in insurance premiums.

What This Means for Claimants

Although this reform is intended to deter false claims, it should not discourage you from filing for compensation if you have been genuinely injured. It is likely to mean that you will need to go down a different route to actually file the claim. It would be wise to seek legal advice about your circumstances before pursuing the claim to estimate the scale of your case and how to  claim for whiplash injury, but in many cases, claimants of whiplash injuries will be going through the small claims courts.