The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) came out swinging over the whiplash debate yesterday after obtaining figures that show the number of whiplash claims fell by 60,000 – or nearly 11% – in the last year.
After the insurance industry had its say on the need for reform in its submissions to the transport select committee’s whiplash inquiry, APIL said the number of claims had dropped back to the level of five years ago.
A Freedom of Information Act request of the Department for Work and Pension’s Compensation Recovery Unit revealed that the number of whiplash claims in Great Britain for 2012/13 was 488,281, a drop of 59,124 claims on the previous 12 months and just 2,000 more than the figure for 2008/09.
APIL president Matthew Stockwell said: “The transport committee inquiry finally presents a real chance to challenge hackneyed and groundless propaganda about whiplash-related injuries which has been promulgated by the insurance industry for far too long.
“Considering the congested state of the UK’s roads, the impact of improvements in car design and the compulsory use of seatbelts, it is no great mystery that there are significantly more whiplash injuries than catastrophic injuries and deaths from car accidents, and this is surely something we should welcome.”
APIL’s submission to the committee pointed to a report from the World Bank which shows that the UK has 79% more vehicles per kilometre of road compared with the European average. This is higher than Germany, the Netherlands, and almost twice the number in France.
Mr Stockwell said it was “more ominous” that a report published last month by the Association of British Insurance indicated that 29% of car insurance premiums is used to pay for repair costs and replacement vehicles, “which is an aspect of claims which the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has already branded ‘dysfunctional’”.
The OFT has found that insurers’ approach to car repair and replacement may push up premiums for drivers by £225m a year, he added. The OFT has now referred the UK private motor insurance market to the Competition Commission for investigation.
“This, combined with insurers’ staffing and overhead costs, accounts for more than half of the average premium, and this is where the real mischief lies,” said Mr Stockwell.
“This debate has been mired in myth and hyperbole for far too long,” he went on. “Whiplash injuries are real, they are painful, and independent research [conducted for APIL] has found that around one in five sufferers have symptoms lasting more than a year. That’s the reality. The fact that the transport committee is now taking a hard look at some of the myths is extremely welcome.”