Friday, 14 March 2014

Lies, damned lies, and statistics: how insurers distort the truth about whiplash claims

If we believe what the insurance industry tells us, by means of its adept PR machine and a credulous media, there's barely anyone out there who hasn't made a claim for a whiplash injury. We're all at it. No sooner do we feel a twinge in our necks and off we go to make a claim. That's what the Association of British Insurers would have us believe, anyway.

The truth, though, is somewhat different. Anecdotally, the ABI's protestations just don't add up - look around the people you know, and you'll struggle to find someone who’s made a whiplash claim - and more to the point, its campaign to stigmatize whiplash is deeply wrong. Whiplash hurts, and is real: if you've been injured through no fault of your own, and as a consequence suffer from whiplash, you ought to be able to obtain compensation.

But even more pertinently, recent figures released by the Compensation Recovery Unit show that far from being on the rise, whiplash claims are actually decreasing.

Whiplash claims are dropping

The CRU has been collating annual statistics on the number of claims made each year for over 20 years. Its work, which came about as a result of the Social Security Act, started in 1990. A key element of the CRU's work is compulsory reporting: if an individual claims compensation from a compensator, which in the majority of cases would be an insurance company, the insurer or other paying party must at once inform the CRU.

The CRU's stringent reporting requirements make it a very reliable source of data. They provide a remarkable portrait of a society which, far from facing a litigation crisis engendered by 'cash-hungry claimants', is holding steady in terms of claims formally commenced and entering the legal process. David Cameron may have opined that "We simply cannot go on like this", but, in truth, the CRU statistics indicate that it would be no bad thing if we carried on much as we are. Not least when we look at the table below:



Whiplash claims

Motor claims

All claims

2008/09
486,194

625,072

812,348

2009/10
518,563
+ 6.65%
674,997
+ 7.98%
861,325
+ 6.03%
2010/11
571,111
+ 10.1%
790,999
+ 17.2%
987,381
+ 14.64%
2011/12
547,405
- 4.15%
828,489
+ 4.74%
1,041,150
+ 5.44%
2012/13
488,281
- 10.8%
749,555
- 9.53%
1,048,309
+ 0.69%

Spin and reality

Whiplash claims have dropped markedly of late. Confronted by this, insurers claim that the fall in whiplash claims is due to injuries not being referred to as whiplash in CRU1 forms. However, this is misconceived. The fact there has been a fall in RTA claims as well as whiplash claims means that the fall is genuine: if it was simply a reclassification issue, RTA claims would be stable and whiplash falling. In addition, the fact that there has been a 10% drop seems to suggest that the majority of the fall in RTA claims may be due to a fall in whiplash claims.

Moreover, as I mentioned, the CRU1 form is completed by the compensator, which, in all but a few cases, is the insurer. This means any reclassification of whiplash injuries is therefore due to insurer reclassification rather than claimant representatives.

A touch of irony

Two other points are worth making. The insurance industry has been very happy to use the whiplash figures as produced by the CRU in previous estimates to justify its claims about the number of whiplash claims. I am sure I am not alone in finding it more than a little ironic that insurers feel that there are problems with the figures only when they start to fall.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Photo

Finally, the whiplash figures reflect each claim where the word 'whiplash' is included in the injury field. As such, if you consider a whiplash claim to simply be for that injury and that injury only, it is likely to be an over-representation of whiplash claims. For example, someone who suffers a broken leg, a broken arm, psychological injuries and whiplash will be included in the CRU whiplash figures.

In fact, work undertaken by colleagues here at Spencers suggests that only 60% of injuries involving whiplash are whiplash only (with 30% being whiplash and other soft tissue injuries and 10% being whiplash with multiple injuries, including broken bones).

The American 19th century essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said 'Reality is a sliding door'. His words have a great deal of resonance when it comes to whiplash and how it's dealt with by the insurance industry.