Whiplash injuries can be very painful and unpleasant for the sufferer, leading to neck pain and stiffness. The effects are usually short-term but the most severe cases can result in long-term debilitating pain and depression. Typically, the damage occurs after a car accident, often a rear collision at low speeds, and the resulting whiplash injury is described by the NHS as a trauma to the neck caused by a sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways, often causing damage to muscles and ligaments.
There are many genuine cases of drivers and passengers suffering whiplash injuries, but both the insurance industry and the government have become concerned over the past eight years about the dramatic increase in the number of claims. In 2012 UK drivers made 554,000 whiplash claims, over double the number recorded in 2006. The level of personal injury claims is currently costing the UK insurance industry up to £1.6 billion a year, and adding £90 to the average premium. The House of Commons Transport Committee is currently exploring ways to curb the massive increase in road-related personal injury claims, and both the Association of British Insurers and the government are keen to identify ways in which genuine claimants can be distinguished from fraudulent ones.
So how has the UK become what the Prime Minister recently described as “the whiplash capital of Europe”? The trend seems to have been driven by no-win-no-fee lawyers paying claims management firms for referring potential clients who have been involved in an accident, however minor. A minority of less scrupulous claims companies have been known to encourage their clients to exaggerate or invent symptoms, and because whiplash injuries can be difficult to detect immediately and the effects often only emerge after a few days, whiplash is a particularly easy injury to “invent”. There have also been cases of criminal gangs deliberately setting up fake accidents to back up substantial claims.
“Insurers want to make it simpler and quicker for genuine whiplash claimants to get fair compensation,” says ABI’s assistant director of motor and liability. Ideas currently being explored to reduce the number of inflated claims and the cost of premiums are to use impartial experts to assess all whiplash claims, and restricting claims to crashes at speeds higher than 6mph. The ABI has also developed a new tool to help member companies identify people with chronic whiplash injuries and to get them the expert medical attention that they need as quickly as possible. UK drivers can help themselves by making sure that they adjust their headrests to help limit neck injuries in the case of an accident – over 72% of front seat occupants fail to do this.
There are other steps that responsible drivers should take if they are involved in even a minor accident. It’s tempting to think that a minor shunt is not worth reporting to your insurance company – always do so, even if there is very little apparent damage to your car. Allianz Your Cover aims to provide helpful, efficient and fair advice to claimants, and their claims advisers will discuss details of an accident and any concerns about potential whiplash injuries. It’s also worth an early visit to your GP if you have any indication that you might have suffered damage to your neck – early warning signs are headaches and muscle stiffness and pain when turning your head.