On the UK’s personal injury claim landscape, 80 per cent of all claims are for whiplash injuries. Such is the prevalence of whiplash claims in the UK that it is known as the world’s Whiplash Capital; when compared to other countries, such as France and only a 3 per cent occurrence of whiplash, the UK’s whiplash problem becomes even clearer. Experts have estimated that whiplash claims in the UK is directly responsible for car insurance premiums rising by an average of £93, prompting Government to bring the issue up for review, with a view to curbing the exponential rise of whiplash claims. Here are some issues that may arise in the near future with regard to whiplash claims.
Are whiplash claims on the rise?
The prevalence of UK-based compensation claims for whiplash injuries has been speeding towards a problem for a long time, and the issue has finally impacted, with insurers and policyholders ultimately paying the price. Car insurance policy premiums are at an all-time high, costing the average driver approximately £800 per year, which is an increase of 14 per cent in the space of two years. The rampant use of legal action over minor and even contrived injuries has led to the many bearing the brunt of a problem created by the few, and the Government deciding to reform the process of claiming compensation for whiplash injuries, which is being instigated this year.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is actually a bit of a blanket term, and is used in relation to an injury to the muscles, nerves, discs, bones or tendons in any part of the back or neck. Accidents that involve abrupt impact or braking often cause passengers’ heads to be jerked in one direction and then back again with considerable force, which leads to inflammation, swelling and pressure on the nerves. While this tends to be the extent of whiplash injuries, severe cases can see damage to the neck bones too.
The problem is that whiplash injuries can be difficult to ascertain the seriousness of. In many cases, the injuries heal themselves within about six or nine months, but for the unfortunate few, permanent injury can be sustained.
Complications caused by whiplash
Anyone who believes they may have incurred a whiplash injury should immediately seek medical attention. Whiplash symptoms can worsen with time if left untreated, so an initial medical assessment is important. The common symptoms of whiplash include stiff or painful neck, diminished mobility, headaches and migraines. The intricate nature of whiplash injuries and the vast number of muscles, nerves and tendons that could have suffered because of it, make it a complex injury, and one that could cause long-term problems if not seen to early on.
If no expert help is sought following a whiplash injury, the likelihood of the damage developing into a more chronic condition is higher, and if a serious injury, such as a herniated disk, goes unnoticed, the long-term effects could be very serious. A doctor or chiropractor can examine existing injuries and devise a recovery plan to help rehabilitate the person and prevent the condition from worsening. Treatments like massage can help to ease muscle tension, while more specific physiotherapies and chiropractic manipulation can be used to treat more severe injuries.
The hidden symptoms of whiplash
People who have suffered from whiplash injuries often do not recognise other symptoms as being connected to their initial injury, at times preventing them from realising the extent of the damage. Headaches and migraines are one of the lesser known symptoms of whiplash, and are often considered a secondary symptom, in that they are directly brought on by the initial injury and the tensions and stresses caused by it.
It is also common for people with whiplash injuries to put off seeking help for what are deemed lesser symptoms, such as stiff necks and loss of mobility, under the assumption that the pain would clear up by itself. However, this can cause more harm than good, and an untreated injury can go on to become a long-term issue, impacting other facets of life, including quality sleep, ability to concentrate at work and general comfort.
Fact vs fiction
Because of the complexity of whiplash injuries and the difficulty faced in trying to determine the long-term impact of them, large compensation amounts being paid out to people whose injuries were not as serious or chronic as they implied has gained prevalence. Fear that further increases in such claims will only hike insurance premiums up yet again – and cause unnecessary problems for victims with legitimate claims – has seen a growing insistence that politicians review and reform the claims process for whiplash injuries in the UK. However, such efforts have been bogged down by other issues that have taken precedence, including Brexit.
Last year the Government declared that they would be ‘Reforming the Soft Tissue Injury (Whiplash) Claims Process’, in an effort to quash the ever-increasing claims, and the subsequent hiking of insurance premiums by implementing changes to the process followed to award and calculate compensation amounts. A fixed payout amount is being introduced for complainants whose injuries last less than two years, which is hoped to regulate the amount of money being distributed in this way. Additionally, the Small Claims Track Limit is being increased from £1000 to £5000, in an effort to reroute the majority of cases through small claims court, and therefore reducing both the amounts awarded to victims, and the amounts spent on legal fees, which often cause even more money to be spent in such cases. It is hoped that this will help to stabilise insurance rates too.
What this means for claimants
Part of the purpose of this reform is to repel false whiplash claims, but this should not dissuade genuine victims from filing for compensation. However, the reform means that claimants may have to take a different approach to filing their claim. The input of a reputable legal expert should be the first port of call, to give an indication of the viability of the case and how to make a claim for whiplash injury, but it is likely that the majority of such cases will be continued in small claims court.