Experiencing a road traffic accident is not pleasant for any party involved, regardless of whether there are injuries or damage to the vehicle involved. The probability of getting into an accident on the road continues to rise as the volume of traffic increases, and the potential for sustaining an injury remains high. Throughout the UK, more than 140,000 personal injuries were reported as a result of road traffic accidents in 2015, with nearly 1,800 road deaths reported during the year. Being on the road has become safer due in part to advanced technology in vehicle safety, but reducing the number of traffic accidents remains a priority for the government and insurers alike.
One of the ramifications of a high occurrence of road traffic accidents in the UK is the cost it imposes on motorists in the form of insurance premiums. In the last year, the UK government has set out to combat the compensation culture of the country, focusing its efforts on reducing fraudulent and excessive claims for soft tissue injury, also known as whiplash claims. According to the government, the number of whiplash claims after traffic incidents has risen by 50% over the last ten years, despite efforts to create safer roads for all drivers and passengers. The average cost of a whiplash claim is £1,850, creating an incentive to file a personal injury claim even if no substantive injury is experienced. To combat the rising cost of soft tissue injury claims in the UK, the government recently released a proposal for reforms relating to the whiplash claims process.
Reducing Whiplash Claims through Reform
In November 2016, the UK government released for comment a series of reforms aimed at tackling the rising cost of whiplash claims after road traffic accidents. Within the call for reform, interested parties, including the transportation department and insurance companies, weighed in on how a reduction in claims could save safe, honest motorists from a continual rise in insurance premiums. The reform lays out specific steps to reduce the monetary incentives often reaped through fraudulent claims, including:
- A reduction in compensation for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity (PSLA) related to soft tissue injury claims when recovery takes longer than a defined period (typically six months)
- Either fully remove compensation for PSLA or set PSLA compensation at a fixed amount not to exceed £400 or £425 when psychological issues are present
- Increase the limit for bringing a small claims case to £5,000 (previously £1,000 for personal injury claims) to dissuade individuals from accumulating a significant legal bill
- Ban the ability to settle soft tissue injury claims when medical evidence provided by accredited practitioners is not available
Implementing these updated reforms has the potential to cut down on the number of claims brought against insurance companies after a road traffic accident results in whiplash. The government estimates the reduction in personal injury claims that is inevitable through such reforms could save the insurance industry upwards of £1 billion – savings which would, in theory, be passed on to motorists at an average of £40 per month.
Not all Road Users Created Equal
Although a fight against frivolous soft tissue injury claims is a notable cause, some fear that dissuading individuals from bringing legitimate claims against insurance companies is a slippery slope for a specific group of road users. According to a personal injury firm dealing with motorcycle accidents, “Injuries to motorcyclists are out of proportion to their presence on our roads. They account for just 1% of the total road traffic, but 19% of all road user deaths, meaning bikers are 28 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than car occupants.” The disparity between vulnerable road users and other motorists does not stop at bikers; pedestrians and cyclists also experience a greater risk while using the road. Unfortunately, the reforms proposed by the Ministry of Justice unfairly ignore the potential risks of these vulnerable groups.
The problem lies in the fact that motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists have no protection from other vehicles on the road. Vulnerable road users face more serious injuries when accidents do occur, but there is no evidence that excessive personal injury claims run rampant through this demographic. However, there are no specific provisions detailed in the soft tissue injury claims reform to offset the disparity vulnerable road users face when bringing a claim against the insurers – an issue personal injury firms feel is widely underrepresented.
In the coming months, the soft tissue injury claims reform will be molded into its final version with heavy representation from the insurance companies. After all, insurers stand to benefit most from restrictions placed on personal injury claims as it relates to total compensation caps and the inability of claimants to secure expert legal representation in small claims court. The proposed £1 billion saved by major players in the insurance industry may help reduce the rising cost of motorists’ insurance premiums over time, but there is no guarantee those savings will be passed on to consumers. Instead, motorists trying to work the system will be discouraged from bringing claims while individuals who seek justice for their suffering may be left without a viable remedy to recover losses.