Hazard Ahead! Why Motorists should be worried about the Government’s ‘Whiplash reforms’
The Government is in the process of trying to change the system for obtaining compensation after a road accident. They say that this is to reduce the number of whiplash claims. They argue that some of these are fraudulent and add to the cost of motor insurance premiums for all motorists.
What are they proposing to do?
They propose changes to reduce the number of people who will be eligible to get legal advice to bring claims for whiplash injuries. They will do this by not allowing representation for anybody whose claim is less than £5,000 by calling it a ‘small claim’
They also intend to impose independent medical panels to provide medical evidence. This seems to be based on the belief that doctors are not at the moment providing unbiased medical evidence to the Court. This is a remarkable criticism of doctors and their independence.
What will the main effect of the changes be- and why should injured motorists be worried?
The reason why motorists and anybody genuinely injured should be worried is this. If the Government does not permit representation for claims up to £5,000 many injured motorists are going to be totally vulnerable to insurers making ridiculous offers that do not represent the value of their injuries. Insurers are there to maximise profits for their shareholders- not to give proper and just compensation to innocent victims of injury.
Practically speaking this will mean that an injured motorist who does not accept the first offer that the insurers give him- often even without a medical report- will have to go to Court and argue his or her case. Their opponent will be an Insurance appointed Barrister who will be fully briefed on how to keep the payment of compensation as small as possible.
The problem with this is obvious. Firstly, it is completely unfair on an injured person (and against natural justice) to expect them to be able to argue their case unrepresented against a skilled legal opponent Secondly, this arrangement will mean that insurers will often be able to settle the claim without medical evidence. This is unacceptable as anybody who has had any experience of whiplash claims knows that there are statistically a proportion of victims whose symptoms go on to become much more serious and may affect their capacity to earn a living into the future. I am personally aware of a case where the insurers sought to settle a claim for under £1,000 when eventually –with legal representation- the injured person received over £30,000
The Government, as always, presents these reforms as cutting red tape and abandoning regulation to free up the system. In this, as in many other areas that they meddle in, they appear not to care about the inevitable injustices that will result.
This crude broad brush approach does not seem to bother the Government- motorists beware!