Insurance Post

Whiplash debate is at last out in the open but where does it go from here?

The Transport Select Committee's latest report on the rising cost of motor insurance has forced the debate over the related scandals - and they are scandals - of whiplash claims and referral fees further up the political agenda. This is very welcome but there now there needs to be a constructive response from everyone.

For that to happen there has to be an acknowledgement by all concerned that a significant proportion of so-called whiplash claims are phony, either false or exaggerated. How big a proportion is almost impossible to tell but anecdotal comparisons with other European countries suggest it is a far worse problem than most people imagine. What would be useful now is an authoritative comparison across Europe and I would suggest that it is in the interest of the British insurance industry to put up the money for this and then to stand back from the work itself.

As far as I see it there are few people that come out of the current mess without some blame attached to them for creating it. Insurers have been too weak in challenging suspect claims and have participated in the money making merry-go-round of passing claims on; too many claimant lawyers sell people the idea that they have a claim when none exists; the courts have been weak in dealing with fraudsters; and doctors have been too easily duped by people following carefully crafted scripts. It is not a pretty picture.

If each group accepts its share of the blame then maybe we can start talking about finding a constructive solution and the person that has to be at the heart of that is the genuine claimant. It would be a very good starting point if we could start to create a picture of what the genuine claimant looks like: what type of car they were driving, the nature of the accident, their previous medical history, age, likely symptoms and so on. Much of this information already exists with the various motor accident research bodies and the World Health Organisation. It needs to be collated, verified and intelligently - and independently - analysed so that we can make sure that people with genuine claims are dealt with fairly, sympathetically and efficiently. I can't support the simplistic approach advocated by Jack Straw and others that we should switch the onus of proof in soft tissue neck injuries to the claimant. That would put insurers in an invidious and ultimately unpopular position.

I look forward to the next installment of this debate at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services' meeting tomorrow afternoon when the select committee chair, Louise Ellman and Jack Straw will give their views on the way forward. 
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