Whiplash claims fell by 16 per cent in the last year. However, the insurers’ tales of fraudulent claims still abound, and as such the Government, along with professionals at the very top of their respective legal and medical trees, are currently beavering away to reform the handling of whiplash cases. This is a multi pronged attack on fraud.
Firstly, all accident victims wishing to claim for their injury must see a doctor who will establish whether the claim is genuine. Whilst this sounds like common sense, the reality is at present that thousands of claims get settled by insurers without them bothering to check that someone was actually injured.
Secondly, the doctor who carries out the examination must be an expert in their field, trained to detect fraud and exaggeration, and will be accredited to ensure that they remain competent.
Thirdly, insurers are being encouraged to share data with the lawyers about the client. Three whiplash claims in the last two years? The lawyer will be properly informed, and will expect claimants to tell the truth. Lawyers only want to deal with genuinely injured clients who deserve compensation, not those after a fast buck.
Fourthly, medical records will be consulted where necessary. This tells the examining doctor a lot about the injured person, what their previous medical history is, and how quickly they are likely to recover.
Out of nowhere last week came another Government announcement, independent of all the current discussions about fraud. This announcement was two- fold: firstly, a ban on cash inducements and other incentives. Solicitors will no longer be able to entice the client through their doors by waving a cheque for £2,000 at them. This is good news, we say. For too long, the reputation of ethical lawyers has been damaged by crass advertising and marketing gimmicks, giving the whole profession a bad name.
As a result of these reforms, fraud should be defeated, and genuinely injured people should have nothing to fear when bringing claims. Or have they?
Another new Government announcement proposes that claimants with dishonest or exaggerated claims will get their whole claim thrown out of court. At present, judges remove any exaggerated or dishonest elements and only allow claimants to recover money for their genuine injuries. Judges use their discretion to introduce cost penalties or, if the dishonesty is severe, to throw the case out. This new proposal takes away judicial flexibility – any exaggeration and the whole claim is thrown out. But the world is not that black and white. Insurance companies allege that a claimant is exaggerated far more than you would think, and those allegations are often undeserved. A threat of exaggeration could be used as a tactic to force genuine claimants to settle for a low amount, through fear of getting nothing at all.
These cases are too expensive to fight in court so, in the circumstances, the little guy may just admit defeat.