If someone mentions ‘whiplash’ what comes to mind? Following recent news stories sensationalising a ‘compensation culture’ in the UK, you’d be forgiven for thinking that whiplash was something trivial – something you said you had following even a minor bump in the car – a sure-fire route to compensation. The fact is that whiplash is a real medical condition. As with many injuries, it impacts people differently, and far for being trivial, it can morph into a pain condition which may never fully heal.

Dispelling the whiplash myth

It’s important that we recognise that whiplash is a genuine condition. The sudden movements that you might experience in a car accident cause neck injury – and sometimes back injury – as your head is thrown forwards, backwards and sideways. There are a variety of symptoms associated with the condition. For some people, the pain, tenderness and stiffness (which can spread from the neck to shoulders and arms), the headaches and spasms can clear up relatively quickly, in weeks or months. For others, it’s not so straightforward.

Despite this, ‘whiplash’ has become almost a byword for people who might just want to take a punt on some compensation. As we reported back in January, the Government has carried out consultation proposing to reform whiplash claims aimed at tackling what is perceived to be “…an unacceptable level of claims”. Well, this is certainly how the motor insurance industry perceives it to be – but sadly, this much-publicised view of whiplash claims has gone a long way to trivialising a real condition which causes many people months or even years of pain and discomfort.

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Choosing a solicitor – not a paralegal – to handle your whiplash claim

The high volume of whiplash claims has led to ‘claim farms’ where paralegals, often untrained, handle hundreds of cases at a time without giving the care and attention each individual case really needs. The low-cost services these firm offer mean they are often the preferred supplier for many insurance companies, which will point you in the direction of one of these claim firms when you contact them about whiplash. In many cases, these firms often leave clients in the dark about what’s going on and may encourage settlement at an early stage, often before the full extent of the injury and likely prognosis is known.

Undoubtedly the situation has arisen because of the huge number of whiplash claims – and undoubtedly, some of these claims will be spurious – but that shouldn’t mean you are poorly treated by your lawyer, if you have suffered from whiplash and are eligible for compensation. If you are unhappy with your whiplash lawyer, then you may consider changing your lawyer.

Whatever your insurance company says, you do not have to engage the firm the insurance company recommends. As with other legal expenses insurance generally, you will be free to instruct a firm of your choosing – so spend a bit of time researching firms that specialise in personal injury and understand the kind of service you will receive from them. There’s some more guidance about choosing a law firm in our recent blog about changing solicitors during a personal injury claim. Because of the very individual nature of each whiplash claim, it’s vital you choose a solicitor who will take the time to understand what has happened to you and how you have been affected by the whiplash.

Compensation for whiplash

Even less serious cases of whiplash require proper attention to ensure that compensation is properly calculated. If you’ve been involved in a car accident and sustain such an injury, you can be eligible for compensation made up of 2 components – General Damages, for the injury itself – often referred to as ‘pain and suffering’ and the impact it has had on your enjoyment of life, and Special Damages which cover the financial losses you experience as the result of the injury – loss of earnings, and the costs of treatment and adaptations that need to be made to help you following the accident. Every case is different, and we don’t offer a ‘compensation calculator’on our website because they are rarely accurate and often just a gimmick, but you can read more about how compensation is calculated here.

It’s important to understand that compensation isn’t a ‘windfall’ – rather it is designed to put you back in the position you would have been if that accident hadn’t occurred. It’s a difficult concept given that life can never really be the same following any kind of accident. However, compensation may help alleviate difficulties you experience, whether short or long-term. That’s why it’s important to use a solicitor who will do the best for you.

The impact of Government reforms

Following the General Election in June, the Queen’s Speech confirmed that proposals surrounding whiplash that I mentioned above, would go ahead. When the proposals become law, probably in October 2018, compensation claims arising from a car accident which are valued at less than £5,000 will be dealt with in the small claims court. This will apply to many whiplash claims where the impact of the injury is at the lower end of the scale. There will also be a ‘tariff’ which fixes compensation for whiplash injuries depending on the length of time symptoms are suffered, up to 2 years.

Moving these claims into the small claims court has a huge impact on access to justice in these cases. People seeking compensation at this end of the scale will be unable to recover their legal costs, even if they win their case. This will leave people unable to afford legal representation and vulnerable to a system which can be difficult to navigate at the best of times, and certainly so if you are injured. Of course in some cases, no win no fee agreements may be appropriate, and will offer some solution to those suffering from whiplash, but for claims at the lower end of the scale, this may simply not be feasible.

Until the Government reforms come into force, whiplash compensation remains calculated as General Damages and Special Damages and each case requires individual attention. If you are considering a claim for whiplash and would like to find out more about our services, get in touch – we’d be delighted to help you.