The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) has hit out at the proposals to reform whiplash claims published yesterday by insurer AXA, describing them as “highly biased” and “largely based upon statistics that are either inaccurate or out of date, but are certainly highly selective”.
MASS chairman Craig Budsworth said the result was “a report that promised enlightenment but delivers only a blinkered view of the issue”.
As an example, he pointed to the report stating that whiplash accounts for just 3% of all bodily injury claims in France. “This figure is from 2004,” said Mr Budsworth. “Association of British Insurers research published earlier this year found that there had been a 1,000% increase and is now 30% of personal injury claims in France. Such basic errors give little confidence in the validity and independence of the other statistics used in the report.”
He argued that there are “real dangers” in trying to draw direct comparisons across different legal systems which have alternative structures, classifications of injuries and systems of award: “Other countries may have a smaller proportion of whiplash claims, but this is likely to mean that genuine accident victims are not compensated and cannot access the support and rehabilitation services that they need.”
Mr Budsworth dismissed AXA’s call for hard evidence of a whiplash injury – such as from an x-ray or MRI – to be eligible to claim. “There is no simple test for whiplash,” he said. “It is a soft tissue injury that cannot be seen on an x-ray or MRI scan. Any injury you can see on a scan is damage to the bones or supporting structures, rather than the tissue, so it seems disingenuous to recommend that one of these expensive diagnostic tools should be required for every whiplash case.”
He further questioned the recommendation that a whiplash should be categorised in accordance with a Canadian scale of 0 to 4 – with 0 being no neck pain and 4 chronic neck pain and fracture or dislocation – with only grade 3 and 4 injuries receiving compensation.
“The Quebec Task Force system was developed in the context of treatment recommendations rather than eligibility for compensation. It has always been viewed with a high degree of scepticism due to its weak evidential base. Excluding Grades 1 and 2 from the compensation process would prevent all but a very small proportion of genuine injuries from receiving damages.
“Ultimately this will push the cost from the at fault driver’s insurer to the taxpayer. All treatment costs will be borne by the NHS and the benefits system that would have to support claimants unable to work as a result of their injuries.
“Every injury is different and cannot be bucketed with others in an overly simplistic grading system. Every injury must be assessed by an experienced medical professional who knows what to look for and what questions to ask each patient. These nuanced assessments are essential for stamping out fraud and MASS has long advocated a system that requires a medical examination before any compensation is paid.
“Their experience is crucial in helping us to address fraud and they provide the best assessment of the severity of an injury.”