I was interested to see AXA’s recent report on whiplash – an issue on which we have submitted evidence to the Transport Select Committee. The insurance industry continually issues figures about how much whiplash claims allegedly add on to motor insurance policies every year. However, no one appears to be questioning the numbers, which are nine years old and, therefore, somewhat out of date. No one is asking whether any supposed saving that would be made if the law changes will actually be passed to consumers. The reality is that, according to official figures, the number of whiplash claims has fallen to a five-year low, with 60,000 fewer claims last year.
The Association of British Insurers has had a one-sided discussion with the government about reforms and changes, many of which are already implemented. Despite all of these changes, the next stage would see victims facing an increased small-claims limit of £5,000, despite Lord Justice Jackson stating in his review that the current small-claims limit of £1,000 should remain. We as an industry must urge the government to look at true figures, not emotive language and hyperbole, before making changes which could adversely affect genuine claimants.
AXA’s report claims that MRI scans and x-rays will help diagnose whiplash. However, Dr Andre Brittain-Dissont’s evidence to the Transport Select Committee asserted that MRI scans and x-rays would only show fractured bones, and not stretched or torn muscles, which are key indicators of a whiplash-type injury.
The government needs to listen to medical professionals and not the insurance industry before it imposes laws that will be damaging to many innocent road traffic accident victims. These ‘selective’ reports funded by the insurance industry as part of its lobbying focus are essentially an attack on individuals’ right of access to justice. A balanced argument with clear, up-to-date data is the best way to proceed. The current drive by insurers looks set to inflate their profits and shift the burden to the taxpayer to fund rehabilitation following an accident. The Law Society has disclosed to the TSC that from a first insurance company compensation offer to a legally represented compensation offer, the difference is, on average, 274% in favour of the innocent victim.
Our solution is that all accident claimants should have an independent medical assessment, which would and should outlaw the current insurance industry practice of making pre-medical offers without independent diagnosis. If the insurance industry is so concerned with stamping out fraudulent claims, why make these offers in the first place? And, if we were to resort to an insistence on MRI scans and x-rays, would this not have enormous cost and resource implications? Would insurers pay for these costly checks? If so this would surely have a knock-on effect when it comes to premiums.
Or will the taxpayer once again foot the bill if tests are done by an already over-stretched NHS? Perhaps there is an ulterior motive here: to make the process so potentially costly that it deters the average person from making a claim, once again eroding access to justice for many genuine claimants. Independent medical assessments would, however, reduce the potential for fraudulent claims, without impacting upon that access to justice.
Philip Waters, Camps Solicitors, Merseyside