The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has called for anyone claiming whiplash injury to undergo examination by an accredited medical expert.
The move has strengthened claimant lawyers’ complaints about insurers making pre-medical offers at the moment.
The ABI’s response to the government’s whiplash consultation said accredited medical experts would need to show “financial independence from claimant solicitors, take into account the circumstances of the collision rather than the claimant’s reported symptoms, and undergo training in latest diagnosis techniques”.
Accreditation would be carried out by a board made up of government, judiciary, claimant interest groups, compensators and medical experts. The board would develop the accreditation process and standardised whiplash medical reports, and arrange for the claimant to be examined.
The ABI backed the proposal that the small claims threshold should rise from £1,000 to £5,000 for all road traffic personal injury claims, and said there should be a prescribed level of damage awards for whiplash, at a level set independently.
Further, any claimant whose whiplash claim is in part exaggerated or made up should automatically have their entire claim dismissed.
James Dalton, the ABI’s assistant director of motor and liability, said: “We believe our proposals offer the best cure for the UK’s whiplash epidemic. Insurers want to make it simpler and quicker for genuine whiplash claimants to get fair compensation. But whiplash is notoriously difficult to diagnose, which means that for too many people it has become the fraud of choice.
“Our proposals will ensure better medical assessment of whiplash claims; offer a quick, simple way of paying genuine claims; provide certainty for claimants and compensators; and deter fraud that ends up being paid for through higher motor insurance premiums.”
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers president Karl Tonks countered that insuers are simply looking to “do the best for themselves” and pay less than the fair level of compensation to injured and unrepresented people in the small claims court
He argued: “The real issue should be about getting the right level of compensation for genuinely injured people. We can all agree that there should be proper medical evidence in every case, but some insurers are still making offers of compensation without any medical evidence at all and this needs to stop.
“The vast majority of claimants have genuine injuries and these proposals will put off the genuine claimants and do nothing to stop the fraudsters.”
Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) chairman Craig Budsworth said that while he was concerned about many aspects of the proposals put forward, he was “pleased to see the ABI agreeing with MASS that every claimant should be assessed by an independent, accredited medical expert.
“MASS, however, urges caution against introducing an overly complicated system of medical panels that could generate unnecessary red tape and expense in the system.
“MASS is particularly disappointed in the ABI’s U-turn following their response to the Jackson review in which they rightly said the small claims limit should not be increased until after the proposed reforms had bedded in. Jackson concluded that the small claims limit should not be increased at this time and MASS has consistently agreed with this.”
He added: “The ABI’s sweeping statements about dismissing claims where there is any suspected exaggeration is disingenuous and frankly unhelpful. It demonstrates that insurers know very little about how lawyers work with their clients to put forward an honest case or the nature of living with a whiplash injury.”