The subject of whiplash claims has returned once again to the spotlight with the publication of a report by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, which looked into the impact of whiplash claims on the cost of motor insurance premiums.
The report recommends that Ministers should consider reducing the limitation period for road accident insurance claims, and require whiplash claimants to produce more supporting evidence. However, the report also stresses that genuine claimants should not be demonised.
Looking in more detail at the report, the Committee states that it supports the proposal for an accreditation scheme for medical practitioners who provide medical reports in relation to whiplash claims.
It is essential, says the Committee, that the practitioners instructed to prepare such reports are provided with information about the accident and the claimant's medical records. Reports prepared without this information are likely to be of very limited value.
The report notes the Committee’s surprise at the discovery that insurers will sometimes make an offer to personal injury claimants even before a medical report has been received. It also highlights that the Committee’s previous recommendation on improving the transparency of the the links between insurers and other parties involved with claims appears to have been ignored.
The Committee warns that access to justice could be impaired by Government proposals to switch whiplash claims between £1,000 and £5,000 to the small claims court, particularly for people who do not feel confident to represent themselves against insurers who will use legal professionals to contest claims.
It also points out that the use of the small claims track could actually prove counterproductive in efforts to discourage fraudulent and exaggerated claims, as expert evidence is not generally submitted in applications to the small claims court.
One possible solution suggested by the report is that the Ministry of Justice consider ways in which use of the small claims track could be combined with the routine submission of expert evidence, such as medical reports, to limit the scope for fraud and exaggeration. It should also consider ways to provide help to litigants in person when they use the small claims process, to address the likely inequality in personal injury claims.
“Many claims are genuine and relate to real injuries which can affect people for months or years. In the debate about how to reduce fraud and exaggeration, genuine claimants should not be demonised simply because their condition cannot be picked up on a scan,” concludes Committee Chair, Louise Ellman MP.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has welcomed the report, describing it as a shift towards “transparency and truth” in the whiplash debate.
It calls for insurance companies to be “taken to task” and for an end to injured people being used as scapegoats for high motor premiums.
“The issue of whiplash claims and their effect on premiums has been subject to much propaganda. But the committee recognises that the number of claims has fallen, and that reports of the level of fraudulent claims are essentially based on guesswork,” said APIL chief executive Deborah Evans. “Its recommendation for the insurance industry to provide better data about fraudulent injury claims, so that there is a stronger evidence base for policy decisions, is very welcome indeed”.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has also responded to the report, stating that insurers remain committed to paying fair compensation to genuine whiplash victims as quickly as possible. However, James Dalton, Head of Motor Insurance at ABI, argues that the report has also “kicked into the long grass” the calls for tough reforms of whiplash claims to help bring insurance premiums down further.
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Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v1.0.