The UK government has proposed that an independent medical panel be introduced to assess whiplash injuries when motorists make a claim following a car accident. The plans were part of a package that includes measures aimed at reducing the cost of whiplash claims.
This comes after it was estimated that such claims add £90 to the cost of car insurance premiums for all drivers. On top of this, the number of road accidents has fallen 20% over the last six years, but whiplash claims have increased 60%. In a consultation report, the use of independent experts was proposed as a way to clamp down on fake claims and reducing the activities of a profitable industry that has developed over recent years.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling revealed the plans, which proposed that small claims courts be allowed to hear whiplash claims of up to £5,000 as well. The current limit on this is £1,000, and ministers think the change will reduce the large legal expenses that vehicle insurance firms face when cases are considered in County Courts. They think lower legal costs will also inspire insurance companies to challenge suspicious claims instead of settling outside of court.
One solicitor who specialises in whiplash claims says settlements can cost between £750 and £14,000, depending on how severe the injury is, and the legal fees are much more costly. Additionally, it’s not out of the ordinary for claims management companies to peddle for business by sending unsolicited text messages to motorists. These urge consumers to consider going to court in pursuit of compensation for whiplash.
Grayling says honest people have been paying the price for a system that’s been abused for too long. It’s time this changes. They are proposing measures to support the effective diagnosis of whiplash by medical experts and to make procedures simpler for bringing suspicious or fake claims before a court. Their aim, he added, is to allow genuine claimants to settle for compensation but leave fraudulent claimants sure they won’t get an easy payday.
The government’s plans were welcomed by the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) head of motor and liability, James Walton. He says his organisation is pleased the government acknowledges that tough measures are needed to protect honest drivers from the whiplash epidemic in the UK. Whiplash has been considered the crime of choice for too long. More effectively diagnosing whiplash will help real claimants get compensation fast and reduce the opportunity for fraudulent claims. This will help ensure honest drivers don’t have to pay for the cheaters with higher insurance premiums.
However, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) criticised the plans. The group’s president, Karl Tonks, says that the plans will cripple access to justice for people who are vulnerable. Last month, he told ministers that motorists who suffer whiplash injuries are genuine. Honest drivers aren’t the problem; it’s the fraudulent ones that are, and this must be dealt with by everyone working together.
This consultation will complement law changes that will become effective in April. These will include putting no-win no-fee deals back into balance so defendants who lose won’t have to pay a success charge or legal insurance premium to the lawyer of the claimant. A ban on referral fees will also be included. This means companies can no longer profit from selling a consumer’s personal injury claim, while claims management companies won’t be able to offer money or products to encourage a claim going through them.