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Whiplash: What is it and can you claim for a legitimate injury?

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All you need to know about whiplash, the claims procedure and how it impacts your insurance.

 

Driving suffering from whiplash

One of the most controversial aspects relating to motoring and car insurance today is how road traffic accident victims – in particular those suffering from whiplash – are compensated.

The extent of a whiplash or other soft-tissue injury is far more difficult to assess than, say, a broken leg. As a result, there’s a great deal of concern that a large proportion of whiplash compensation claims are either exaggerated or invented for financial gain.

The insurance industry estimates that inflated injury claims add around £40 a year to the typical motor insurance premium, and in early 2017 the government announced new rules aimed at reducing the number and cost of such cases.

But the fact remains that whiplash injuries are frequently suffered in road accidents, and in many cases they can cause significant long-term pain and discomfort.

Claiming compensation for whiplash

Whoever was responsible for the whiplash you have suffered, you may be entitled to compensation from an insurance company if the injury is particularly serious and long-lasting.

This compensation may address any pain or discomfort you suffer, as well as any financial losses, for example if you need to take time off work to recover.

As with any claim for damages, it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible.  This should include photos and witness details or statements from the accident itself as well as medical reports concerning your injuries.

The insurance company for the party responsible for the accident may offer an out-of-court settlement which you are free to accept or reject.

There are scores if not hundreds of legal firms in the UK that will offer to help you negotiate a claim or even take your case to court. Typically, they’ll operate on a no-win, no-fee basis: this means you only pay their fees out of any settlement you receive.

Doctor

How much compensation could you get?

The size of a settlement depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the injury and any financial losses that result. But in recent years, typical payments have been in the region of between £1,500 and £3,000.

In very serious cases, compensation can run into the tens of thousands of pounds. But changes proposed by the government could limit the size of potential payouts in some instances.

The effect of whiplash claims on car insurance

Government and insurance industry estimates suggest that inflated claims for whiplash and other types of personal injury cost around £1 billion a year. Much of this is passed onto customers, who have to pay about £40 extra for annual motor cover as a result.

It’s not just the cost of compensation that increases insurers’ bills: in recent years, there have also been sharp rises in legal fees as well as charges for the likes of medical examinations.

Changes to whiplash compensation rules

In light of these rising costs, the government has decided to make changes to the law in a bid to reduce the number of false personal-injury claims and the cost of settling them.

In February 2017, a number of potential measures were set out by the Ministry of Justice as part of the Prisons and Courts Bill. If the legislation is passed:

  • Insurers will be prohibited from making settlements for whiplash unless they have seen medical evidence of such injuries.

  • A new tariff system for whiplash compensation will be introduced to put upper limits on payments for all but the most serious cases.

  • The upper limit for personal-injury claims in the small claims court will be increased from £1,000 to £5,000. This will enable more cases to be pursued in the small claims court, where it’s not necessary to have legal representation and where legal fees are typically not recoverable.

At present, the Prisons and Courts Bill is making its way through parliament and it’s not yet clear when these reforms will come into effect.

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