A blog article by Jonathan White
The insurers' representative body the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has launched a further attack on people who have suffered as a result of personal injury. Last week it was victims of the fatal disease mesothelioma, this week it's whiplash.
In one of the most ruthless attacks to date on injury victims, James Dalton, head of motor and liability for the ABI, yesterday called for compensation for whiplash and other ‘low-value claims' to be completely removed. The move would leave people injured in a road accident or other incident with no access to recompense.
The insurance industry's approach seems to be to lobby for the most extreme result, whatever the evidence, in the hope that government will go at least some way towards meeting their proposals.
Whatever the insurance industry says, whiplash is not a trivial injury. Most commonly the result of a road traffic accident, it causes neck pain and stiffness and can develop into a chronic condition. As the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) pointed out in its recent research report, it's not an ‘epidemic' either.
Furthermore, symptoms can last a long time, with one in five experiencing pain and other complications for more than a year, according to APIL's research.
Yet the ABI seems to think only the most severe personal injury cases, excluding whiplash, warrant compensation. Even people whose injuries might only merit relatively small amounts of compensation should be entitled to seek justice. An award in the order of £1,500 may be small in the eyes of the ABI but is of critical importance to most people injured in accidents - as it is needed to cover immediate losses that most people can ill afford, such as lost earnings and rehabilitation costs.
The Transport Select Committee rightly recognised that the insurance industry's claims about fraud levels were self-serving and that they were at worst exaggerated, and at best, lacking evidence. All sides of the argument agree that fraud needs to be dealt with; it is relevant to a small minority of claims and this should not skew policy decisions at the expense of justice for genuine accident victims who deserve to be compensated.
The belief that all whiplash claims are without merit and shouldn't be eligible for compensation is a direct attack on our civil justice system. If the ABI wants a public policy debate, perhaps it should first move towards making sensible, evidenced proposals, rather than pushing for proposals which are simply a means of reducing insurable risk and enhancing profits.
Furthermore, responsible companies such as National Accident Helpline take fraud seriously and only progress cases with merit. Recent regulatory changes have meant unprecedented changes in the sector over the past year.
I believe the whole sector, including insurers, needs time to adapt to the changes and focus on supporting those with genuine claims to receive fair compensation. The insurers' most recent attempt to undermine genuine injury victims indicates that the pursuit of profit may be obscuring the way to justice. Yet guaranteeing access to justice should always be at the heart of the system.