The Whiplash Epidemic – A Real Pain in the Neck

12th January 2016

The UK has the weakest necks in Europe, according to claims statistics which show that whiplash accounts for 78% of all UK personal injury claims. Compared to France, in which more vehicle collisions occur, the number of personal injury claims from whiplash is just 3%.

With an average of 1,500 whiplash claims every day the UK has been dubbed the ‘whiplash capital of Europe.’

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash occurs when the head is thrown violently, ligaments and tendons in the neck are overstretched causing damage. Because of the way seat belts are designed whiplash is very often unavoidable in motor accidents.

The symptoms of whiplash can sometimes not be felt until hours after the incident, which makes it all the easier for fraudsters to claim for it.

Statistics from the NHS reveal that whiplash accounted for 72% of all motor injury claims between 2008 and 2012.

Compensation Culture

The UK has an obsession for claiming compensation, but why? Partly it is because of so called ‘ambulance chasers’; legal firms who hound drivers involved in accidents and encourage them to put forward a claim for personal injury, whether they were hurt or not. Aviva reported that in 2014 only 4% of claims were brought forward by drivers, all the others were by lawyers and other personal injury claim management companies.

Aviva, who have openly criticised the UK’s laws regarding whiplash claims have also recently rejected a hefty £250,000 insurance claim when one of their insured drivers collided with a bus carrying 46 party-goers. The collision itself was so minimal that it only cost a mere £70 to repair the bus, but after all 46 passengers onboard put forward whiplash claims with support from lawyers and medical evidence Aviva decided enough was enough. Aviva rejected the compensation claims from the accident which occurred back in September 2012 and the case was dropped before it even went to court.

“This claim highlights the outrageous scale of whiplash fraud in the UK being driven by the current system, and which frankly has become a national disgrace.” Tom Gardiner, Head of Fraud at Aviva.

Another cause of whiplash claims are organised gangs involved in ‘crash for cash’ schemes. These claims are planned ahead of time, rather than being merely opportunistic. When there is a collision between to motorists the insurers usually place the fault on the vehicle which hits into the back of another. Without evidence from witnesses or dash cams it is very difficult to prove innocence from such incidents.

Another reason for our high number of whiplash claims is because insurers would rather pay out than incur the cost of legal fees. Often the cost of paying the whiplash claim is a lot less than the cost of contesting the claim through court.

It is estimated that that the cost of whiplash claims is adding anywhere from £50 to £100 to our motor insurance policies each year.

What is the Remedy?

There are measures you can take yourself to prevent being caught up in a bogus whiplash claim. By investing in a dash cam you can ensure that you will always have your own evidence which insurers will take into account when settling a claim.

The UK Government has already taken steps to combat the issue of the compensation culture. Included in the previous Autumn Statement the Chancellor has increased the maximum threshold through the small claims track from £1,000 to £5,000 for personal injury claims. It is hoped that this change would not dissuade anyone from making a genuine claim but it would speed up the process of personal injury claims. Importantly it would also prevent most injury claims from motor accidents going through the fast track where damages anywhere up to £25,000 could be awarded.

Furthermore, the Chancellor has also announced that they would bring to end cash compensation for just whiplash claims. Instead insurers would award 'care not cash' by providing rehabilitation support instead.

“We are determined to crack down on the culture of fraud and exaggerated claims in the motor insurance industry, which means car owners are forced to pay higher premiums to cover the false claims of others. This culture is boosted by an industry that encourages exaggerated claims through cold calling and it is right that we tackle this. Insurers back these much-needed reforms and have committed to handing over savings to motorists quickly.” Justice Minister Lord Faulks.

However it is also important to note that another outcome of the Autumn Statement was insurance premium tax (IPT) rising from 6% to 9.5% so it may not be clear how much of these savings from compensation will actually be passed on to us motorists.

What the Changes Mean to You

The changes announced in the Autumn Statement will almost certainly ensure that our car, van, bike or any other motor insurance should be cheaper in the near future. The change in legislation means that insurers could save anywhere up to £2.5 billion and because of the competitive nature of the motor insurance industry those savings will be passed on to the customers.

The only loss is to those who suffer genuine whiplash injury from a motor collision that are no longer entitled to a cash reward.

Certainly, on a positive note, it seems that this government policy will finally put an end to those unsolicited nuisance calls asking 'if you have been involved in an accident which was not your fault'.

Have you been involved in a motor insurance claim that you felt wasn't quite right? Are you happy with the changes brought in by the Government? Please leave your comments below:

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