LEGAL EAGLE: All quiet on proposals to change whiplash injury claims

Whiplash
Whiplash

Q. I have heard that soon it will no longer be possible to make a claim for having been injured in a car accident. Is this so?

A. Some time ago the government announced that it would be consulting about 2 things:-

a) Making it impossible to claim compensation for “soft tissue injuries” (sometimes also known as “whiplash” injuries)

b) Raising the small claims court limit to £5000.

Whiplash – it is often said that car insurance premiums are high because car insurance companies have to pay for whiplash claims. Car insurers have lobbied government very hard about this for many years.

Government spokespersons have often said this is why whiplash claims should be looked at. There are some basic questions that have not been addressed though. Firstly –what IS a soft tissue injury exactly? And if you can seek compensation from someone for negligently breaking your arm (which would clearly not be a soft tissue injury however you define it) why should you be stopped from claiming for injuries that do not cause fractures? And which can be very painful indeed.

Secondly – what will the savings be on car insurance? So far car insurance companies have not said much about this in detail. Some people think if soft tissue injuries are taken out of the justice system there is doubt about what level of “savings” due to that change will be passed on to the consumer.

£5000 limit – if you have a personal injury claim worth £1000 or more if you win the compensator (normally an insurance company) has to pay not only your compensation but also a sum– usually fixed – to your solicitor for doing your case. The government is considering putting that limit up to £5000 to simplify things and keep lawyers out of the equation because below the small claims court limit the insurer does not have to pay the claimant’s lawyer.

Keeping lawyers out of things is rarely an unpopular policy for governments or political parties of course. And you would still be able to take your case to the small claims court and do it yourself without a lawyer. The flaw though is as follows: the insurance company WILL have a lawyer. Insurance companies have the money to pay lawyers win or lose and regardless of the value of the case. And the law will not get any less complicated anytime soon so how much would you fancy the chances of an unrepresented claimant in the small claims court…..?

Not much has been heard very recently about the proposed consultations and developments are awaited.