If you’ve been in a car accident, you may have had a whiplash injury. But, while some whiplash claims are genuine, others are dodgy and many of the claims companies are aggressive in their tactics. Find out more.
Q. What are whiplash claims?
A. Whiplash claims are claims for compensation after a car accident for injury to your neck. The injury can be caused by a car suddenly braking hard, or colliding with another vehicle. A whiplash injury is a broad term to describe damage to your tendons, muscles or ligaments in your neck.
Q. Why is there a problem with whiplash claims?
A. Over the ten years from 2001 to 2011 the number of whiplash claims doubled, despite the fact that the number of road accidents fell by 40%. And figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) show that in 2014 there were 1,500 whiplash claims a day, costing insurers £2 billion a year and adding between £40 and £90 a year to the average car insurance premium.
There’s been a whole industry of ambulance chasing claims companies but, it has to be said that the insurers were some of the worst culprits in the past. That’s because they were being paid for passing on their customer’s details to personal injury lawyers, without the customer’s permission. Former home secretary Jack Straw said an insurance executive had described whiplash claims as the industry’s ‘dirty secret’.
They weren’t the only ones: recovery companies and even police were selling on the details of people who’d been involved in accidents to claims companies and personal injury lawyers.
Q. What’s happening?
A. Since 2013 it’s been illegal for solicitors to pay referral fees to companies to get the details of people who’ve been involved in accidents. And if bogus whiplash injury claims are made, courts can force the claimant to pay the insurer’s costs.
In the Autumn Statement in 2015, the chancellor said that further reforms would be made. Last month it looked like these reforms would be delayed, but today the Ministry of Justice has published its proposals, which it will consult on until January 2017.
The planned measures include:
- Scrapping the right to compensation or capping the amount you can claim for minor whiplash injuries. The maximum could be set at £425, although the cost of any treatment or loss of earnings would be on top of this. Compensation would only be paid out if a medical report was provided as proof of injury.
- Introducing a transparent tiered system of compensation payments for claims with more significant injuries
- Raising the amount that you can claim via the small claims court for personal injury cases from £1,000 to £5,000
- Banning insurers from being able to settle claims without medical evidence. All claims would need a report from a MedCo accredited medical expert before any pay out. MedCo is an organisation which has a list of accredited medical experts who’ve registered to provide whiplash injury assessments.
SAVVY TIP: As part of the government’s plans, insurers would have to pass on the full cost of any savings that resulted from a reduction in the number of whiplash claims.
Q. What can I do if I have suffered from whiplash?
A. Not all whiplash claims are fraudulent, and if you have been in an accident and you have suffered from whiplash, you are entitled to make a claim for compensation. I’d suggest that you use a personal injury law firm rather than a claims management company. The law firm should do this on a no-win, no fee basis (called ‘conditional fee agreement’ or CFA). Not all law firms are scrupulous but they are bound by tighter rules than claims management companies.
SAVVY TIP: You shouldn’t be left out of pocket if you’ve suffered from whiplash, but beware of companies that encourage you to exaggerate your injury or the compensation claim.
Q. What can I do about nuisance calls from claims companies?
A. If you’ve had a call from a company telling you about an accident you’ve not had, you’ll know how annoying they are! I used to get a lot but recently have only had a few. However, it can be quite hard to get rid of them.
The obvious steps to take are:
- Register with the Telephone Preference Service (you can register your landline and mobile number). This takes about 28 days to kick in and once you’ve registered you shouldn’t get cold calls. However, it’s definitely not 100% effective. I’ve registered and I still get cold calls about PPI and accidents I’ve never had.
- Do ‘1471’ or check your caller display as cold callers will have to display their number. They’ve had to do this – by law – since May 2016.
- Complain to the Telephone Preference Service if you get unwanted calls after you’ve registered.
SAVVY TIP: This may not get you anywhere. I recently complained about a cold call. The company gave me their name when they rang and they didn’t withhold their number. However, despite this information, the Telephone Preference Service emailed me to say they couldn’t take my complaint any further because they’d been unable to verify the information. A few days later I had another (very similar) cold call from a claims company and it withheld its number, so there was nothing I could do.
- Buy call blocking software or handsets. There are several companies that offer these and some are more effective than others. TrueCall’s Call Blocker seems to get good feedback.
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