At APIL we strongly believe that people who suffer genuine whiplash injuries through no fault of their own should be compensated. What a joy it was to read that the Transport Select Committee shares that view.
For too long, whiplash victims have been vilified as fraudsters. Jack Straw has been a prominent mouthpiece – implying that whiplash was a made up injury. The insurers, in their ideal world, want the number of claims to significantly reduce. There is no mention of reducing injuries – just claims. It is simply not acceptable to leave people in pain and distress, often unable to work for a while or lead their lives as they did before being negligently injured, and expect them to put up with it.
The report out today cuts through all the guesswork and speculation about fraud, and quite categorically states that there are no reliable statistics available. It sensibly calls for better data, properly collected, to inform Government policy. The committee notes that the growth in claims since the turn of the century reflects a tendency for people to pursue their legal rights and that ‘no win no fee’ agreements have aided access to justice. The report states that there was no evidence to prove or disprove that the UK is the ‘whiplash capital of the world’, and recognises that whiplash claims have fallen to the lowest level in five years. It cuts through the spin.
There are some sensible recommendations on medical reporting and the compilation of better evidence. Committee members expressed surprise that insurers settle cases without asking for medical evidence, and ask that insurers get their house in order. Such activity could encourage fraud and exaggeration as it removes the checks and balances from the system.
All claimants are asked to see a GP soon after the accident when the symptoms are still prevalent, and that doctors should see better information about the accident including medical records. Accreditation of doctors and medical experts is something APIL recommended strongly. Accreditation only works if it is properly administered, so the committee proposes that the General Medical Council conduct an annual audit to hold them to account.
It also suggests reducing the time period in which whiplash claims can be brought (although does not say what it should be). Many whiplash claims are conducted quickly after the event – however, for a small proportion of those injured – perhaps about 20 per cent - symptoms can go on longer than a year and we would worry if this review lead to a date being set that impacted those most seriously injured. It also creates problems having different limitation dates for different injuries – often in a car accident whiplash may be only one element of the injury – it would be bizarre to have several limitation dates applying to one person. Sometimes simplicity is the key, and it may be that changing the limitation date causes more problems than it is worth.
Whilst the committee does not support the proposal to increase the small claims limit at present, (fearing quite rightly that access to justice would be impaired, and that claims management companies would seize the advantage pushing claims even higher) it recognises that the £1,000 limit cannot be left indefinitely. It urges caution – asking the Government to do a full analysis of the current system – the portal - as to its impact in processing claims and controlling cost before any increase is considered. So many recent changes have yet to bed down. This makes sense.
The committee calls upon the Government to seek return on their investment – to properly monitor the commitment by the insurers to reduce motor premiums. This commitment was given over a year ago in response to the cuts in legal fees and other reforms proposed by the Government, but real reductions in premiums have yet to materialise. Only yesterday LV= reported that premiums may continue to rise.
The majority of the proposals are inherently sensible, and reflect many of the views that APIL have been expressing all along. We are pleased that the Transport Select Committee has dug below the surface to look at figures, facts and evidence and find the truth. We now call upon the MOJ to give this report the credence that it deserves and to reflect on it before finalising its policy.