Crackdown on whiplash injuries urged by MPs

Whiplash PreventionCar insurance is rarely far from the news these days and particularly the debate about whiplash injury. And, further fuelling debate on the issue, the cross-party Transport Committee of MPs published a 165-page report highlighting the findings from its inquiry into whiplash injury on Wednesday 31 July.

Last year, there were around 1,500 whiplash injury claims made every day, representing a 60% increase in the number of injury claims made since 2006, while over the same period the number of car crashes has fallen by 20%.* This led to unprecedented increases in car insurance premiums.

It’s estimated that up to £90 was being added to every car insurance premium to fund the cost of claims which last year, amounted to £2 billion.

However, measures implemented by the Justice Ministry aimed at curbing spurious whiplash injury claims, are beginning to take effect and have already seen the number of ‘no-win, no-fee’ injury claims firms drop by around 40%. As a result, car insurance premiums have started to fall.

Transport Committee recommendations

The MPs say that insurers should do more to discourage fraud and exaggeration in vehicle whiplash injury claims.

The report notes that making a whiplash injury claim has been too easy. But it also says that ministers should also introduce further legislation to weed out spurious whiplash injury claims – such as reducing the period following a collision during which a claim can be made and production of more supporting evidence that whiplash injury has been suffered.

However, it also said that genuine claimants shouldn’t be put off making claims.

The report also expressed reservations about Justice Ministry proposals to switch whiplash claims of between £1,000 and £5,000 to the small claims court. This would mean that legal costs cannot be recovered by personal injury claims firms for claims of over £1,000, as currently happens. While this would discourage a large number of potentially fraudulent or exaggerated claims, MPs were concerned that it could discourage genuine claimants who were not comfortable representing themselves in an action against an insurance company.

The Transport Committee report also urged Ministers to insist on expert evidence that a claim is genuine in a small claims court action.

Launching the report, the committee’s chairman Louise Ellman said: “Whiplash injuries can have debilitating consequences for those who suffer them. However, some of the increase in whiplash claims will have been due to fraud or exaggeration. To help bring insurance premiums down the Government must tighten up the requirements for motor insurance claims and ensure that insurers honour their commitment to reduce premiums.”

But Justice minister Helen Grant pointed out: “Honest drivers should not have to bear the price of a whiplash claims system which has been abused and has contributed to increased insurance costs.

“We have already made major law changes to turn the tide on compensation culture to help ordinary people with the cost of living – and we have heard this week that (according to the AA’s British Insurance Premium Index) insurance premiums are now falling as this starts to make an impact.”

AA Cars response

David Bruce, director of AA Cars said:

“I am pleased that MPs recognise the delicate balance that must be struck between genuine claimants and those who are, in effect, trying to earn a ‘quick buck’ by exaggerating an injury after a road collision or indeed have not been injured at all.”

Commenting on MP’s surprise that making a whiplash claim has been ‘too easy’ he added: “The burden of proof falls on the defending insurance company and because all but serious whiplash injury cannot easily be diagnosed, the insurance company ends up paying both the costs of a court defence as well as compensation and legal fees.

“There is no doubt that fraudulent and exaggerated whiplash injury claims have inflated premiums and have tarnished the reputation of the legal and insurance professions.”

Measures already introduced by the Justice Ministry are having an effect on car insurance premiums, which according to the AA’s British Insurance Premium Index have fallen by nearly 10% over the past 12 months.

David Bruce adds: “Whether it is true or not, Britain has earned the shameful reputation of being the ‘whiplash capital of Europe’. I hope that the recommendations of the Transport Committee as well as the Justice Ministry’s proposals will put that behind us for good.”

Drivers can do much to reduce the risk of whiplash injury by good seat adjustment and you can read the AA’s advice here.

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