Whiplash claims are a mire of mixed views. Those who have suffered serious whiplash injury can testify to how limiting and long lasting it can be but many have been encouraged to claim when symptoms are very limited in extent and duration and, in some cases, are in fact non existent.
Whiplash claimants as a whole have been branded by the insurance industry as ‘making a fuss over nothing’ and we constantly hear about the existence of an ever increasing compensation culture. A report published by the Transport Select Committee today takes this approach to task and specifically identifies that the number of whiplash claims brought is at its lowest for five years – not ‘spiralling out of control’ as has been suggested.
The report makes some sensible recommendations whereby claims for whiplash injury must be validated by medical evidence, claimants should be encouraged to seek medical advice early if they have symptoms and medical experts reporting in cases must be credible and objective.
There has been much promotion that a higher small claims limit for injuries is required – suggested at £5,000. Claims falling below this limit can still be brought but without recovery of legal fees. The report highlights that this is likely to deny access to justice in terms of advice for claimants, may clog up the courts with claimants trying to manage cases on their own, result in under settlements and potentially encourage claims management companies to build a business model on these claims – without any necessary benefit to claimants. The committee does accept that the current £1,000 limit may need to rise but that the government needs to fully assess the impact of the extensive recent reforms for lower value claims and for litigation costs generally before making a decision.
The committee also highlights that the insurance industry promoted the reduction in premiums that would follow all the recent reforms – but as yet there has been no clear evidence of this and that the insurers must be held to account on this agreement.
Philippa Luscombe, head of the personal injury team at Penningtons, said: “This report is a breath of fresh air. For too long the insurance industry and parts of the government have been branding all whiplash claims as spurious but at the same time encouraging claims by settling them direct without need for any proof or medical evidence. The report takes exactly the right approach – claimants must have sound medical evidence in support of any claim but when they have a genuine injury they need to be able to access specialist legal advice on their claim.”