As Prime Minister David Cameron bids to cut motor insurance premiums by reducing the number of whiplash claims made in the UK each year, critics have argued that he may be missing the point. Though whiplash claims are on the increase, measures proposed by government officials would neither address the main cause of whiplash nor provide justice for those injured.
In early February 2012, Mr Cameron invited representatives of the insurance industry to discuss ways in which motor premiums could be reduced. Consumer groups, accident victims and personal injury solicitors were excluded from the discussion, which concluded that premiums could be lowered if claims for whiplash compensation are restricted at the source, meaning that fewer people would be legally entitled to make a claim.
Access to Justice
The insurance summit raised serious concerns among consumer groups. Following its discussion with insurers, the government has proposed preventing people who suffer whiplash at speeds of less than 15mph from claiming compensation. Road-safety experts are particularly discomfited by the proposal, which would not take into account the various ways in which whiplash might be caused at low speed.
Mr Cameron also wants insurers to defend more claims in court, which is a largely unobjectionable request if injuries are considered to be fraudulent or exaggerated, but whether this might deter many genuine claimants remains unclear. The proposal to reduce the period of time (currently three years) in which a whiplash claim can be made is far more controversial, as an accident victim should be afforded sufficient time and opportunity to decide whether a claim ought to be made. Evidence of contemporaneous injury would be especially difficult to support when most cases of whiplash do not last longer than six months.
Responsibility for Whiplash Claims
While exploring measures to reduce the number of whiplash claims made in the UK each year, it is possible that government ministers and representatives of the insurance industry failed to identify the predominant causes of whiplash. There is little point in stemming the burden of compensation to reduce insurance premiums if motorists remain at risk of suffering injuries on the road for which they are unable to claim damages.
That whiplash claims are on the rise is incontrovertible. The Department for Transport estimates that as many as 800,000 people sustain whiplash on British roads every year, while the Association of British Insurers (ABI) estimates that more than 1,200 whiplash claims are made every day. Personal injury claims involving whiplash have increased by 52 per cent in the past five years. During this time, motor insurance premiums have more than tripled.
The correlation between rising whiplash claims and soaring insurance premiums seems indisputable, but many important factors are overlooked by purely statistical analyses. To gain a better understanding of the problem, it is necessary to view whiplash statistics in context. Less than 1 per cent of the British population suffered whiplash last year and approximately 0.7 per cent sought compensation for their injuries.
Assigning blame for inflated premiums to those who exercise their legal right to claim compensation for a type of injury that is often caused by the dangerous driving of others is absurd. To assign it to personal injury solicitors is equally foolish, not least because lawyers provide professional help and advice for the injured. If blame is to be shared with anyone other than those directly responsible for road accidents, fingers must be pointed at insurers, the majority of whom are paid fees for referring whiplash victims to third-party solicitors.
For more information contact Hughes Carlisle Solicitors.