The Transport Select Committee have just announced their verdict on the whiplash claims consultation – and it’s “nil points” for the insurance industry’s overblown song and dance submission, “Britain Is the Whiplash Capital of The World.”
Not only can the assertion “not be conclusively proved from the information available”, according to the Committee, a further admonishment has been delivered with the recommendation that insurers “must immediately get their house in order.”
Despite the constant clamour of press and media blindly repeating misinformed sound-bites, the so-called ‘problem’ of sky-high whiplash injury claims has been calmly brought back down to earth. It has long been asserted by both legal and medical experts that a whiplash epidemic simply never existed in the first place.
Whiplash claims have fallen dramatically since 2011 and are now lower than at any time since 2008.
Camps Solicitors welcomes “clarity” of Report
Camps, who submitted our own call for a “fairer approach” to the process, culminating in the final June 17th session at Portcullis House, welcomes the “clarity” of their report.
Key points contained in the report not only support Camps Solicitors “continuing argument against a significant increase in the small claims limit” but also are a clear vindication for not limiting access to justice for the majority of genuine whiplash claim cases and the need for an ‘informed’ system of dealing with the small proportion of fraudulent claims.
Over the last couple of years the insurance industry has led a vocal campaign to drive media headlines and persuade public opinion that an epidemic of fraudulent whiplash claims was driving up motor insurance premiums by an average of £90 per car owner.
The Committee report gives due recognition to recent Government figures, which show that the number of claims has actually fallen by 60,000 during 2012 to a five year low and continues to decline. Conversely, their report suggest the Committee, chaired by Louis Ellman MP, was not satisfied with insurer’s figures and strongly advises for the provision of “better data about fraudulent or exaggerated claims”.
The Committee Report shows conclusively that according to reliable market knowledge, in the absence of any increase in the numbers of vehicle accidents, whiplash claims inflation is only between 3 per cent and 9 per cent.
Insurers botched arguments
Botched attempts were made to convince the Committee with arguments supported by figures claimed to be “backdated to 2004” obtained from France and Sweden “as proof that the number of exaggerated or fraudulent claims will fall if the threshold is set higher.” However, insurers admit that “not all of their quoted figures” relate to so called ‘whiplash injury,’ implying instead that, “the majority are likely to” and as many as 7 per cent of whiplash claims are frauds.
Camps Solicitors have been increasingly concerned to see the vocal “demonisation” of genuine claimants by insurers, seemingly to draw attention away from a not uncommon industry practice of offering compensation to a claimant in advance of any evidence being provided. The Committee expressed “ surprise” at these revelations.
Another surprising tactic was the call by insurers, most notably, AXA, for future medical reports on determining whiplash injury to use X-rays and MRI scans, both of which are unable to detect or display whiplash symptoms. The immediate incredulity of the medical establishment served only to discredit the insurers case further. Dr Andre Brittain-Dissont of Medico-Legal Reporting declared on Twitter that MRI scans are of “no value” and x-rays “have no place” in soft tissue neck injuries.
It therefore appears that the Committee was not persuaded by insurer’s alarmist claims, exaggerated arguments, dubious evidence and frankly, ill-informed and comical recommendations.
No significant change advised for Whiplash claims limit
As a result, the single most important conclusion that the Committee arrived at in their report was that access to justice could be impaired if the small claims limit is changed significantly. Consequently,the Committee “cautions against raising the lower limit for whiplash claims to £5,000”, with the recognition that ordinary citizens are unlikely to feel confident to represent themselves or lack the necessary knowledge, experience and expertise to present a case in court.
The Report also refers to a risk of ‘under settlement’ in favour of the insurer and the additional cost burden of handling Litigant In Person cases likely to overwhelm already over stretched small claims courts.
Courtroom disasters waiting to happen
Camps, alongside many within the legal profession, have raised serious concern of courtroom disasters waiting to happen if whiplash claimants had no other recourse but to defend themselves against the full weight and determined might of an insurance company’s professional legal team.
It is also estimated that as many as 8 in ten of current, legitimate claims would be unfairly excluded from access to a court hearing.
Speaking on behalf of Camps Solicitors, Colin Billing, Joint Managing Director, said “The insurance industry has a responsibility to the victims and we are pleased that the Transport Select Committee was critical of the links between insurers and other claims parties.”
Returning focus on genuine claimants
Camps look forward to the focus returning to genuine whiplash claimants. Colin Billing continues,“Innocent victims of road traffic accidents must not be affected by the hyperbole and exaggeration of the insurance industry facts. We would welcome joint involvement in the creation of a data sharing model that deals with fraudulent claims, thereby, driving the cost of premiums down further.”
The Committee has delivered their verdict in the Report and we now have to await the government response. Let’s hope the prospects for justice for future victims of whiplash injury are protected and it is the soothing tones of the committee’s recommendations that are heard loud and clear and not the insurers’ hysterical howl and wail.