The injury commonly known as whiplash has come under much scrutiny by car insurance companies and the government in recent years. This guide examines the causes, how easy it is to make a whiplash claim and what efforts are being made to stop fraudulent claims.
Whiplash is the most familiar term for a range of injuries to the neck usually caused when the head is thrown violently forward – like the "lashing" of a whip – and muscles and ligaments become overstretched.
Such injuries can be sustained in a car accident, particularly when hit from behind or in a head-on impact, and in the worst cases whiplash may cause spinal or nerve damage.
The following are some common symptoms of whiplash and may appear a few hours after the accident that caused the injury:
Stiffness in the neck
Aching shoulders and back
Difficulty moving the head
In the worst cases whiplash can cause spinal or nerve damage that results in a more serious range of symptoms. The NHS recommends consulting urgently with your GP or calling the 24-hour 111 help line if the following symptoms develop:
Persistent pain despite the use of painkillers
Tingling – pins and needles – on one or both sides of the body
Problems with walking or sitting upright
Sudden "electric shock" feelings in neck and back
Weakness in the arms and legs
Symptoms of whiplash will usually fade in a few days or weeks and painkillers are effective treatment during this time. Even so, if the symptoms caused you to take time off work and you can prove loss of earnings, you have a right to a claim.
If the symptoms persist, you may need additional medical treatment such as physiotherapy and pain management, and compensation may be required to meet these costs.
Whiplash injuries are most commonly caused by motor accidents. If you caused the accident, your own injury claims are unlikely to succeed unless you have personal injury cover on your car insurance policy. When getting quotes for car insurance, check if the policy has personal injury cover – if it doesn’t, it may be available as an optional extra for an additional premium.
If the accident was caused by another driver, you have a legitimate claim – remember, the minimum requirement of any car insurance policy is to cover third party victims in an accident caused by the policyholder.
Make sure you can prove liability – take the following steps:
Get insurance policy details from the other party – if they are willing to share these details and admit liability, the claim process will be much easier
Write down the names and addresses of witnesses – statements from witnesses will be important evidence if liability is disputed
Take photographs of the scene and the vehicles involved – pictures can help demonstrate your claim and corroborate witness statements
If police are involved, ask for copies of any report made
In cases where both parties may be partially to blame for an accident a "liability dispute" may develop, with neither accepting full liability. Under such circumstances it will come down the legal representatives of both parties to negotiate a split settlement.
For the time being, personal injury lawyers remain the easiest and most popular route to settling whiplash claims. For a flat fee or percentage of the compensation award, this type of legal representative will negotiate the claim on your behalf on a “no win, no fee” basis.
Along with any proof of liability – listed above – you will need medical evidence that your whiplash injury is genuine. You must visit a doctor and be diagnosed with the symptoms of whiplash – it is not enough to simply claim you have the symptoms.
In 2018, the UK government introduced the Civil Liability Act to cut down on the number of personal injury claims that it said were “symptomatic of a wider compensation culture”.
Specific measures to eliminate fraudulent or exaggerated whiplash claims are to be enacted from April 2021. Under these reforms, the small claims threshold for road traffic injury claims is to be raised from £1,000 to £5,000.
This means that those seeking claims of less than £5,000 – which represents the vast majority of whiplash claims – will not be able to instruct legal representation. Instead, they must present their claim themselves through a new online claims portal.
Furthermore, you will need an official medical report which must me purchased for £180 through MedCo.org.uk – a web portal set up by the government to help deal with the rise in whiplash claims.
Most claims are currently settled out of court for between £1,000 and £2,750, with the average pay out being close to £2,000.
Under the new laws, from April 2021, amounts paid will be fixed for injuries that last less than two years. Compensation payments will range between £235 and £3,910 – depending on the severity of the injury.
It will still be possible for those who have sustained long-term pain and hardship through injury to appoint legal representation to seek damages above £5,000.
In tandem with the Civil Liability Act’s aims to reduce fraudulent and exaggerated personal injury claims, insurers are making it increasingly difficult to claim compensation for whiplash injuries. If there’s any hint of doubt about the legitimacy of your claim it will be contested.
Indeed, top car insurance provider Aviva – among many others – is investing more in defending claims and in 2017 successfully defended 800 of its customers against spurious whiplash claims.
Additionally, if you don’t have the appropriate documentation or cannot prove liability your claim is likely to be refused. So, if you believe you have a legitimate whiplash claim, don’t forget the checklist:
Policy details from the other driver
Names and addresses of any witnesses
Photographs of the vehicles involved
Police report – if available
Medical Report – £180 from MedCo.org.uk
While it is still possible, consult a personal injury lawyer who will advise on whether, or not, your claim is worth pursuing. They will also handle all aspects of the claim and advise on any settlements offered.
If the liability is not with you, you can claim against the liable party’s car insurance policy, regardless of the cover options on your own policy.
If the fault of an accident lies with you, only comprehensive cover will pay out for whiplash – and only then, if personal injury cover is included as standard. Not all comprehensive car insurance policies include this type of cover.
Many car insurance policies for young drivers include personal injury cover, but claims for whiplash are likely to be seen as the result of poor driving. Insurance for young drivers is already expensive and a claim will drive the cost of premiums even higher at renewal.