Accident Claims for whiplash injury has been in the spotlight over the last 12 to 24 months due to the rapid increase in the number of claims.
The public’s attention has once again been captured by the press as a result of headline accusations from the car insurance industry that lawyers and the number and value of personal injury claims for road traffic accidents are the main drivers for the dramatic increase in car insurance premiums in the last 24 months.
In this article I want to focus on the main issues involved in bringing a claim for whiplash injury as I’ve already previously addressed in a separate article the issue of whether there is any merit in the insurance industry’s latest attack on solicitors and personal injury claims generally in respect of the rise in car insurance premiums.
What Exactly Is Whiplash Injury?
Whiplash is not a medical term but it has been adopted because it best describes the mechanism of the injury. The injury is caused by a combination by hyperextension followed by hyperflexion i.e the head – which is heavy in itself – being thrown backward and then snapped sharply forward.
This type of injury therefore refers to injury to the cervical vertebrae (the neck) which may be either soft tissue injury such as a muscle, or more serious injury such as bony damage to the structure of the vertebrae (dislocation and or fracture) itself. An injury of this type can have varying symptoms which are discussed below, from mild stiffness to more serious nerve damage that causes problems to the area of the body that the damaged nerve serves.
How Is Whiplash Injury Caused?
The neck region, referred to as the cervical vertebrae, is made up of seven vertebrae with 32 different joints that’s supported by muscles, ligaments and tendons. It is therefore a complex structure that makes it very versatile but also very vulnerable to injury.
With such a complex joint and soft tissue (muscles, ligaments & tendons) structure, no 2 injuries are the same.
Whiplash injuries are extremely common in road traffic accidents where the head is thrown rapidly in one direction and then jolted into the opposition direction. The most frequent cause of claims for whiplash in car accidents is due to rear-end shunts, often while in a stationary position such as whilst waiting at traffic lights or at a round about.
Symptoms of Whiplash Injury
There’s a wide spectrum of symptoms for whiplash, from mild soft tissue injury that causes stiffness and muscular pain in the neck region, to headaches, dizziness and blurred vision.
More serious injuries can result in fractures and dislocation of the vertebrae itself which may result in permanent damage and can in some instances cause paralysis and nerve damage affecting different parts of the body depending on which vertebrae has been damaged.
It is also common for victims of whiplash to feel fine immediately after the accident but often display symptom after 24 to 48 hours after the accident.
What Is The Treatment For Whiplash?
Assuming that the injury is very moderate involving soft tissue injury, recovery often simply requires time and gentle exercise in the form of slow controlled rotational exercises and anti inflammatory medicine to reduce the initial swelling.
Treatment by a physiotherapist will help to speed up the recovery process for more severe soft tissue injury cases.
The duration of time for full recovery various significantly with each case from as little as 5 or 6 days to several years for more severe problematic cases. However, as I’ve already mentioned, for the unfortunate few, there can also be permanent damage with no prospect of recovery.
What Is the Compensation Value for Whiplash?
As with symptoms of whiplash, the value of whiplash claims vary enormously from case to case depending on the severity of the symptoms. However, for convenience the values of typical claims have been grouped into the following categories to give you some idea of the compensation value:
1. Minor Whiplash Injury
Pain lasting from 1 week up to 12 months – 800 to 3000.
Pain lasting for up to 2 years – 3000 – 5000.
2. Moderate Whiplash Injury
Pain lasting for a few years with threat of pain returning – 5000 to 8,500.
Permanent or reoccurring pain and stiffness – 8500 to 16,000.
3. Severe Whiplash Injury
Neck pain is severe with permanent damage to the cervical vertebrae – up 95,000.
The above figures are for guidance only and claims can be achieved outside of the ranges provided. For example, someone who is paralyzed will achieve an award of compensation well in excess of the severe guide provided above.
In addition, bear in mind that the above figures only related to compensation for “pain, suffering and loss of amenity”. It does not take into account loss of ability to earn an income or loss of earning claim which often make up the most significant head of claim in personal injury compensation.
Why Have Whiplash Injuries Received Such Bad Press?
The difficulty is that medical experts can not objectively determine in minor whiplash cases whether a Claimant has genuinely suffered injury since there are no physical manifestations of injury that can be verified by the naked eye since the injury is soft tissue damage below the surface of the skin.
As a result, a few unscrupulous individuals seek to take advantage of this and submit claims knowing that it is difficult for medical experts to say one way or the other whether you are telling the true about the symptoms complained about. That unfortunately, has resulted in whiplash claims getting a very bad reputation as it’s an easy target for fraud.
In closing I would just like to add some clarification on an issue that causes Claimants a lot of confusion. Insurance companies have a habit of mis-guiding its policy holders on their freedom to choose who to instruct as their solicitor. To set the record straight you are not obliged by law to go with your insurer’s choice of solicitors i.e one of their panel lawyers. You would be well advised therefore to seek specialist personal injury help and assistance from a lawyer that specialising in the area of law that is particular to your complaint.