Wednesday, 15 February 2012

David Cameron’s proposals on whiplash are flawed and absurd


Picture this:  you’ve just parked your car, perfectly legally, outside a shop. You’ve just unclipped your seatbelt, and you’re about to open the passenger door to climb out of the vehicle, when a car shunts you from behind.

It turns out that the driver picked up his phone to take a call, and lost control of his vehicle. Thankfully, he was only travelling at about 10mph, so the impact wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But still, your body has been given quite a jolt. Fortunately you weren’t thrown through the windscreen, and yet more mercifully, nothing is broken. But within minutes of the incident your neck is hurting, and the following day it is worse. In fact, it hurts like hell, making your day-to-day activities thoroughly miserable. You struggle to turn your neck and move comfortably, so much so that you have to take time off work. Your car isn’t looking too pretty, either.

The injury takes a few weeks to settle down. Your doctor advises you that you’ve sustained whiplash. You’re self-employed, and have lost income as a consequence of another driver’s negligence. You don’t believe in what the government calls ‘compensation culture’ but you can’t help but feel fairly hard done by, so you go and see a specialist personal injury solicitor. This is what he says:

“I’m terribly sorry but there’s nothing I can do. For starters, you would need to see a panel of doctors and ensure that they agreed you’re suffering from whiplash, rather than just your own GP. This will make for delay, but in fact your claim doesn’t even get off the ground. This is because the vehicle which hit your car was travelling at under 15mph. Thanks to changes brought in by David Cameron, claims for whiplash injuries have become difficult per se – and impossible unless the incident happened at a speed of 15mph or over.”

To all right-thinking people, the above scenario will seem unfair and, indeed, absurd. However, it will come to pass if proposals announced yesterday by David Cameron to tackle ‘compensation culture’ are implemented. Making whiplash victims see a panel of medical experts and forcing their lawyers to incur extra costs in proving that an accident occurred at 15mph or over are precisely what the Prime Minister thinks should happen, following statements made at a summit of insurers at Downing Street yesterday.

Mr Cameron’s argument is that Britain’s reputation as ‘the whiplash capital of Europe’ forces insurers to raise their premiums, which, in turn, hits the wallets of the taxpayer. There are a number of flaws with this, not least the fact that medical understanding of whiplash is evolving rapidly and pointing squarely towards the fact that it is a genuine and debilitating condition. Moreover, what evidence is there to suggest that insurers will reduce premiums if the proposals are implemented? There is also considerable doubt that, all things considered, premiums are actually rising, least of all as a result of whiplash claims.

But perhaps the most insulting aspect of the Prime Minister’s proposals lies in their emphasis on the welfare of big business rather than the victim. To Mr Cameron, it is preferable to look after huge and wealthy insurance companies – and their shareholders – rather than think through the impact on the lives of people who suffer an injury such as that which I outlined above.