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Why Whiplash Injury Claims Need Independent Medical Panels

Animation showing pain in neck
4th December 2013

Friday 13th December was the closing date for further written evidence to be received by the Transport Select Committee (TSC) on proposed government measures to implement independent medical panels in all future whiplash claims cases.

Having submitted our written evidence to the TSC during the 2013, Your Legal Friend remains concerned that ordinary, genuine victims of car collisions should not be unfairly penalised by any proposed government changes to future whiplash injury assessment. Access to objective, specialist medical reporting will help determine both the legitimate claimant and level of injury.

According to the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), while around 90 per cent of car crash victims do undertake medical diagnosis of their injuries, around 40 per cent of whiplash sufferers never seek formal examination simply to pursue a claim.

Delayed reaction

Assessing a whiplash injury is not necessarily straightforward. There can often be a delayed reaction or sometimes just the appearance of early minor symptoms, such as bruising or swelling, which a sufferer ignores but could require in-depth diagnosis.

While whiplash sufferers are likely to experience pain or discomfort in the neck or back, other symptoms, such as excessive tiredness, unexplained weight loss, fever, dizziness, chronic fatigue or even blurred vision may not be attributed to the collision.  On some occasions initial observations or limited understanding of the more complex nerve reactions may lead to misdiagnosis. Research has shown that those individuals involved in a whiplash injury may indeed be subject to adverse neurological effects.

Alterations in sensory stimuli

Often the mechanisms underlying chronic pain after whiplash injuries are received can be unclear. Chronic whiplash pain is associated with ‘central hypersensitivity’ arising from the painful or tender muscles in the neck. Peripheral and muscular stimulation of both neck and lower limbs can better determine alterations in the central processing of sensory stimuli (central hypersensitivity).

Previous trauma research had found that patients who were still suffering from their whiplash injury after a period of three months have a 90 per cent chance that their condition would remain permanent.  According to APIL, around twenty per cent of genuine whiplash sufferers will still display symptoms 12 months after their collision.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), who also submitted medical evidence to the TSC, have suggested that around 50 per cent of those with whiplash associated disorder (WAD) will “report neck pain symptoms one year after their injuries”.

Majority are likely to return to normal

Each  reaction can be very different and recovery from whiplash injury, post medical or physiotherapy treatment can take much longer for some individuals. So while the majority of patients are likely to return to normal health between 4 - 6 weeks, others could take up to 16 weeks or longer.

Human necks and backs are very complex structures and the long term effects of damage, both physical and neurological, are not completely understood.  If independent medical assessment panels are to become mandatory it is very important that whiplash injuries are better defined and understood.  Genuine sufferers do sustain injuries which are at best painful and inconvenient and, at worst, life changing.