Whiplash is a term that describes a soft tissue injury to the spine from stretching and straining when the body is thrown forward and back in a sudden, jerking movement.
The injury most commonly occurs in car crashes involving sudden deceleration, such as a rear end shunt accident where the impact of the vehicle behind causes the occupants of the vehicle in front to be thrown forward.
There has been a concerted campaign recently by insurers and their representative body the Association of British Insurers to attack the whiplash ‘claim culture’ so as to reduce the number of claims they have to deal with. They are right that there has been an increase in whiplash claims over recent years (although that trend was reversed when the number of claims went down by 24,000 in 2012) but it is not clear what caused the increase.
Insurers and the ABI claim it is the fraudsters bringing false claims that inflates the numbers, but it is equally likely that it is their own suspect practices that encourage more people to claim: insurers pass details of accident victims to their panel of law firms for a referral fee and they make settlement offers before an independent medical report is obtained to save on costs at the expense of objective evidence of injury.
There is no doubt that there are those who stage accidents to bring false claims and there are those who exaggerate a very minor injury to maximise the value of the claim, but it is not clear quite how widespread the problem is because insurers do not share their fraud date with claimant lawyers. Of course those lawyers operate on a ‘No Win No Fee’ basis so that any case that fails because it is false or exaggerated will not pay any fees and the lawyer will have worked for free. We are therefore keen to weed out any fraudulent or exaggerated claim at the outset, and we reject any case that appears to us to be unlikely to win.
What we as claimant solicitors see is hundreds of people every year whose daily lives have been disrupted by the pain, discomfort and inconvenience of a whiplash injury that was caused by the careless driving of another party, and we do our best to get rehabilitation and compensation for those people.
Most cases are settled quickly, within a few months of the accident, but it is important not to settle whiplash cases too soon after the accident because the prognosis (outcome) is usually not clear until the symptoms have been allowed some time to settle.
Injuries occurring from whiplash
The most common complaints are pain and stiffness in the neck and back, and headaches. These symptoms appear within the first couple of days after the accident and often pass after a few days or more usually a few weeks.
There are ‘indicators’ that medical practitioners and experts will usually pick up which will help predict the outcome. For instance if the passenger was facing sideways at the point of impact the damage might be worse, and if the vehicle behind was large (eg a lorry) or travelling fast then the impact will be greater and the injury more severe.
The injured person may also have had constitutional degeneration in the neck or back, even if they were not aware of it, and this will usually show up on an x-ray. Some degree of degenerative disease is very common. The type of degeneration will vary; there might be osteoarthritis or spondylitis or stenosis. If a sufferer has a whiplash injury it is difficult to work out what effect that injury will have on the underlying condition, and it is a matter for the medical expert to comment on.
Of course the injured person will only be compensated for the injury that is attributable to the accident and not for the underlying condition, so the expert will be asked to give an opinion on whether the accident accelerated the course of the underlying condition, perhaps by making a condition that produced no symptoms to one that was symptomatic, and if so for how many years. The accident may also have made the symptoms worse, or exacerbated the condition, and here the expert will be asked to say how much and for how long.
Sometimes, especially where the injured person has a pre-existing vulnerability such as degenerative disease, the whiplash symptoms can persist, and in rare cases can become chronic (‘whiplash syndome’). Here, there may be neurological symptoms and the pain can be disabling.
Treatment ordinarily includes pain relief, rest and physiotherapy, but in chronic whiplash cases it may also involve osteopathy, steroid injections and the use of TENS therapy and anti-inflammatory medication.
Because any settlement is full and final, once and for all, it is important that in those cases – and they are still a significant proportion – where the symptoms have persisted for many months for the claim to await a reliable long term prognosis, and the expert will probably be unable to give such a prognosis until after a year has passed. But that will allow us to claim substantial compensation for the future losses which follow any long term disability.
Osbornes personal injury lawyers deal with hundreds of whiplash cases every year, from the minor cases where the symptoms last only a few weeks and the injury claim is worth £1000, to the serious cases of whiplash syndrome where the consequential losses total over £100,000.
We will arrange for you to be seen by a medical expert for a report on your injuries. We will investigate with you what treatment you may need and will invite the insurers to participate in rehabilitation, funding physiotherapy for you where required. We will also claim all losses and expenses incurred by you. The list includes vehicle repairs and any replacement vehicle and storage charges, loss of earnings, any private physiotherapy or other treatment, the cost of medication and travel expenses and any other damaged or lost property.
Recent case study
1. Mr M was involved in a road accident. He was a front seat passenger in a car driven by his daughter. She stopped at a roundabout because a vehicle coming from her right had right of way, but a van drove into the back of her car at some speed, causing considerable damage to the vehicle. Mr M sustained a whiplash injury to the neck and back.
Liability was straightforward and the van driver’s insurers quickly accepted responsibility. The difficult issue was the medical evidence because Mr M had a significant medical history. He had a chronic back complaint and a disabling psychiatric condition from being involved in a rail disaster some years earlier. We took the case over from another firm and obtained updating psychiatric and orthopaedic evidence. Our case was that Mr M had made considerable progress before the accident such that he was largely independent, but that the whiplash injury had set him back considerably, especially in terms of managing his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so that he could no longer go out unaccompanied.
The difficulty with a case like this was that there was no objective evidence of the additional injury caused by the whiplash: the scans of the neck looked the same as they did before and the psychiatric effect could not be accurately measured. The case settled because both parties were prepared to compromise: Mr M accepted that the underlying condition was his main problem and the effect of the accident was time limited; the defendant’s insurers accepted that this was a high impact whiplash injury, it was to be expected that it would worsen the state of Mr M’s degenerative back and neck and that it may impact his ability to cope with his psychiatric condition. There was good evidence of the effect of the injury on Mr M (records from his doctor and his psychiatrist and the testimony of his family).
The case settled after court proceedings were issued for £20,000 damages.
If you or someone you know have suffered whiplash in an accident you may be eligible to make a claim for compensation. Contact our specialist personal injury solicitors for more advice.
What you should do next?
On contacting us you will speak in confidence to a member of our personal injury team who will ask you specific details about your injury including where and when it took place. It is helpful to the claims process if you can provide us with as much information as possible, including any relevant pictures of the injury, pictures of where the injury took place, details of any witnesses and reports of any medical treatment you had as a result of the injury.
We will then be able to advise you on whether or not you can make a claim for compensation.