Whiplash: A truly British problem

Whiplash: A truly British problem

One quick look over the figures is all it takes to see that the UK is deserving of the crown of ‘whiplash capital of the world’. The UK has gone from holding the undesirable title of whiplash capital of Europe, to sitting on top of the world – at least in terms of whiplash claims.

We found that, in 2014, around 80% of all motor injury claims we received included whiplash – significantly more than the majority of other countries. This high number of whiplash claims in the UK begs the question …do we have the weakest necks in the world?

Research carried out by Aviva found that, between 2005-2013, injury claims grew by 62%. We know that the rise doesn’t relate to an increase in road traffic accidents, as these fell by nearly a third during the same period. So in an age when cars are increasingly safer and there are fewer accidents on our roads, why have injury claims skyrocketed?

Why are there fewer whiplash claims in other countries?

In order to make sense of why we as Brits witness a relatively high number of whiplash claims, we looked into the status quo of other European countries. Do they have the same problem? Or is there something we can learn from these countries that could help reduce the number and cost of minor injury claims such as whiplash?

Sweden

Change in number of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Change in number people injured as a result of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Motor injury claims relating to whiplash**

-18%

-25%

60%

During the 90s, Sweden was experiencing levels of whiplash claims similar to the UK today. The country dealt with the issue by establishing a Whiplash commission, which determined a minimum threshold for symptoms – as well as a three-to-four day window during which injuries should be assessed after an accident. Following the commission’s final report in 2005, injury claims and premiums fell.

In its final report, the commission concluded that all whiplash injuries should be measured against the same scale – with compensation awarded based on the severity of the injury. The scale settles the level of compensation the claimant is eligible for – from very minor injuries not qualifying for compensation, through to claims involving a fracture/dislocation that is a clear personal injury.

Germany

Change in number of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Change in number people injured as a result of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Motor injury claims relating to whiplash**

-18%

-19%

47%

In Germany, the number of personal injury claims has been falling in line with the number of road accidents. The following could explain this:

  • By law, convincing proof of injuries must be provided by the claimant. A link between accident and injury must also be demonstrated
  • Whiplash injuries are measured against three, increasing, gradients of severity. The first degree requires significant evidence of injury, while the two more severe degrees have clear objective benchmarks
  • Claimants need two medical opinions stating they have suffered whiplash – and if disputed, an ‘independent’ medical opinion is also required

Aside from medical requirements, legal factors also play a crucial role in Germany’s stance on injury compensation. Not only are lawyer fees fixed, or fall within brackets for specific activities, but ‘no win/no fee’ lawyers are only appointed if the claimant doesn’t have the financial means to pay for representation. Overall, this results in legal costs in Germany being amongst the lowest in the world, while ensuring access to justice.

Spain

Change in number of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Change in number people injured as a result of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Motor injury claims relating to whiplash**

-10%

-17%

43%

Spain, like the UK, is having increasing problems with whiplash injury claims, particularly in certain areas of the country.

The following measures have been implemented to tackle the issue:

  • Damages are estimated according to the legally binding Baremo system. The system is used for all personal injuries, not just whiplash related, and is based on six tables which take into account various incidences and circumstances, ranging from temporary disability to fatality
  • Medical examinations are carried out by accredited specialists, who have access to the claimant’s medical history

A rising number of ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers, who are financially incentivised to bring a claim, may be the reason why Spain has witnessed the expansion of a whiplash ‘claims culture’.

France

Change in number of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Change in number people injured as a result of road traffic accidents 2003-2013*

Motor injury claims relating to whiplash**

-37%

-39%

3%

If anatomy were playing a part in the number of whiplash claims, then it could be said that France have the strongest necks in Europe. At only 3% of all motor injury claims, the number of whiplash claims in France is amongst the lowest in the world.

This may be due to the following reasons:

  • A thorough medical process takes place when claims are made – examinations are carried out by independent, accredited specialists
  • The examiner must find visible physical evidence of whiplash
  • A predictable damages table is used to establish compensation – this is done on an injury to injury basis

Another reason why claims in France don’t cost the system as much financially is that 95% of low value injury claims are settled out of court. And the claims that do end up going to court are usually heard in a small claims court, which doesn’t require claimants to have legal representation. The above factors greatly reduce the need – and the cost – for personal injury lawyers to be involved.

What has worked in these countries?

The Frontier report found that although the four countries approach whiplash claims differently, one element links their systems: they all assess injuries against a national, objective scale. The UK doesn’t take this approach – making it difficult to uniformly diagnose the severity of personal injuries. This potentially leads to fluctuations in the amounts paid as compensation in various cases. Implementing a predictable damages scale could reduce the amount of people claiming ‘just to see how much they can get’.

A correlation between the number of claims made, and the regulations implemented in the four countries is evident. Those which have limited the need for injury lawyers, like France and Germany, benefit from significantly lower motor injury claims relating to whiplash. Considering we calculate that around nine in ten personal injury claims we receive, in the UK, are brought by an intermediary such as a personal injury lawyer or claims management company (CMC) – it’s apparent that changing regulations in the UK could have a positive impact on the number of injury claims made.

Whether the whiplash issue in the UK is down to our ‘compensation culture’, in which CMCs bombard people with texts and nuisance calls encouraging them to claim, or the way we diagnose personal injuries, one thing’s for sure, the strength of our necks isn’t the main issue.

*UNECE – 2015 Statistics of Road Traffic Accidents

**Frontier Economics Report

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