11:03 18 December 2012
There's something fishy going on with whiplash claims and motor insurance. According to official data, the number of personal injury claims related to motor accidents (which includes whiplash) rose by 60% between 2006 and 2011. But during the same period, the number of car accidents actually fell by 20%.
And many of us are driving newer cars designed to afford greater protection to drivers in the incidence of a collision. So how come every accident generates an average of 2.7 whiplash claims?
There are now around 825,000 motoring personal injury claims every year, of which 540,000 - that's 70% - are for whiplash. The comparable percentage figures for Germany, Spain and France are 47%, 32% and 3% respectively. The UK is rapidly becoming known as the whiplash capital of Europe.
So just what's going on? Why the whiplash epidemic? And can it be cured?
The cost of whiplash
Whiplash is a problem for all of us because, according to figures from the Association of British Insurers, it costs £2bn a year in claims - and that adds £90 a year to every car insurance policy.
It seems clear that a hefty proportion of the whiplash bill is due to fraudulent claims - so as honest policyholders we're forking out to line the pockets of crooks who either fake or exaggerate their symptoms following a genuine accident, or who stage accidents to create a claim out of thin air.
The problem is, we don't know just how much of the whiplash bill is fraudulent. But given the costs involved - it's not just the insurance bill, it's the time taken up in the courts when claims are challenged - it surely has to make sense take action. This is why the Government has announced a consultation process on measures designed to bring the problem to heel.
The Government is proposing to introduce independent medical panels to improve the diagnosis of whiplash injuries and root out exaggerated, misrepresented or fraudulent claims. The thinking is that people will be deterred from pursuing a flakey or dishonest claim if they know will be subject to a rigorous screening process.
The second proposal is to raise the limit on cases that can be pursued through the small claims court from £1,000 to £5,000. This will reduce the costs incurred by insurers when challenging claims. At the moment, it can be cheaper for insurance companies to settle questionable claims rather than dispute them.
These proposals come on top of a series of measures due to take effect in April 2013. These include a ban on referral fees which will mean an end to insurers profiting from selling on the details of individuals who have made car insurance claims to solicitors and claims management firms which then encourage them to claim for whiplash.
The scourge of 'cash for crash'
Another big - but as yet unquantified - factor in the size of the whiplash bill is the 'crash-for-cash' scam. This is when fraudsters deliberately cause an accident with an unsuspecting motorist before making bogus insurance claims.
Innocent drivers will often find themselves rammed from behind, usually at a roundabout. Or the scammers will slam on the brakes when in front, causing a collision. It is not unknown for innocent parties to receive details of whiplash claims from many more passengers than were actually present in the vehicle at the time of the incident (a people carrier is often the fraudsters' vehicle of choice).
In one extraordinary case, a coach taking a party of men to a greyhound track as involved in an 'accident' with a car. Lo and behold, all 27 occupants of the coach duly claimed for whiplash injury, even though the car-driver was completely unhurt. The claims were rejected.
Criminal gangs involved in these scams will often try to coerce innocent motorists into taking part, so if you are approached, or suspect anyone of being involved in a crash for cash scam, call the Crimestoppers Cheatline anonymously on 0800 422 0421.
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