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Independent Medical Panels Announced For Future Whiplash Claims

Man holding his neck in pain
28th October 2013

Last week came encouraging news that genuine victims of whiplash injury may now be able to have their symptoms diagnosed and validated by an independent medical report as part of their claim for whiplash.

The introduction of ‘objective reporting’ on whiplash injury was part of a package of measures to cut the cost of motoring announced by the government, which also included plans to introduce fuel price comparison signs on major roads and the maximum price of a vehicle’s MOT test capped until 2015.

Key recommendation

The government appears to have responded positively response in favour of compulsory reporting of medical evidence, a key recommendation made by  the Transport Consultation Committee (TSC) in their report published in July. The consultation, which was spread over two main sessions  at Westminster, took both oral and written submissions from representatives of the medical and legal profession, as well as the motoring and insurance industries.

As a law practice representing many ordinary victims of whiplash injury, Your Legal Friend was concerned that genuine victims of car collisions would be unfairly penalised by proposed government changes to whiplash injury assessment.

Expert input

Just before the second consultation, The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) -  the professional, educational and trade union body for the UK’s 51,000 chartered physiotherapists, physiotherapy students and support workers – also made known that they were “content” with the proposal to introduce ‘independent medical panels’.

They also proposed  that “any changes to the way whiplash claims are handled should be developed with the expert input of physiotherapists .... and recommend that accredited specialist physiotherapists should be part of any ‘independent assessment panels’ that are established." The CSP said they would also submit their most recent evidence, which suggests that approximately 50 per cent of those diagnosed with whiplash associated disorder (WAD) will “report neck pain symptoms one year after their injuries”.

According to previous research, there can be a delayed reaction before the onset of symptoms. As a result, vehicle drivers or their passengers who have been involved in a collision weeks or even months in the past may not know they are suffering from whiplash injury until they find specific symptoms persisting, such as excessive tiredness, or further physical problems emerge. The NHS have also stated that in around one in ten cases, the pain can last for six months or longer.

The CSP claim they are able to identify “measurable traits of whiplash”, which may help to differentiate between fraudulent and genuine claims.

True figures

When the second consultation was held, Your Legal Friend entered a written submission, which urged the government to look at the true figure of “fraudulent claims” and also called upon the “true size and value of whiplash and motoring injuries” to be made known. In December 2012, a Ministry of Justice Whiplash Report stated that 4 in 5 of all whiplash claims had been found to be genuine, despite the consultation hearing that 7 per cent was likely to be nearer the true figure for fraudulent claims.  Recent Government figures have also revealed that the number of claims has actually fallen by 60,000 in the past year to a five year low.

Strong support and broad agreement

We gave our strong support to the compulsory reporting of medical evidence, which would eliminate the widespread practice of quick fix, small claim ‘pre-medical’ settlements being offered prior to any medical evidence being obtained. When a claimant had agreed not to proceed with a medical examination, then the cost of the medical assessment fee would be saved.

It’s also positive that there seems to be a broad agreement with the government announcement from The Association of British Insurers who state that they “ have long called for more robust medical assessment of whiplash claimants".

Along with the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and motoring organisations the RAC and the AA, Labour MP Louise Ellman, chair of the Commons Transport Select Committee, said she welcomed the government measures, and in particular, the committee’s recommendation that payouts for whiplash compensation should not take place without a medical report, “which should come from independent medical practitioners.”