Blog: Tinnitus and minor whiplash claims – a cause for concern?

tinnitus

There is an increasing frequency with which tinnitus is appearing alongside minor whiplash injuries in road traffic accident claims. Catherine Burt, head of motor fraud at international law firm DAC Beachcroft, asks if insurers should be worried about this rise and it substantially increasing the value of a claim?

Tinnitus is described by those who suffer from it as a buzzing sound in their ears. Many people may not have heard of it at all, although it often accompanies hearing loss and it can be part of a claim from a road traffic accident, particularly in more serious crashes.

Since 2015, the proportion of motor injury claims received at DAC Beachcroft where tinnitus features alongside a whiplash injury has doubled; in motor fraud cases, it has almost quadrupled. We have also noted a significant acceleration in the number of tinnitus claims in the past 12 months and expect them to rise further with the implementation of the whiplash reforms, as claimants and their representatives attempt to circumvent the new fixed tariffs.

An indication of why we should be concerned arises when we consider that patients with tinnitus are rarely seen by ear, nose and throat surgeons in their clinical practice following RTAs, yet tinnitus does appear in medico legal reports. If tinnitus was a genuine and usual consequence of a minor road accident, you would expect the symptoms of tinnitus to be reported in general practice records and the notes of other clinicians. This is rarely the case, until the claimant is considering a claim. 

There will always be some cases where an accident has led to tinnitus – particularly where the airbag has deployed or where the claimant has sustained an injury to the head or jaw.  In reality, however, direct trauma to the ear is unusual in a minor RTA.

Unmeritorious claims?

There may well be cases where the claimant does have symptoms of tinnitus – but is trying to attribute those symptoms to the accident in question in order to increase their damages award, when they are fully aware the tinnitus was caused by something else. In those cases scrutiny of the claimant’s medical records and any information on their background may help to prove that the symptoms are unrelated. Exposure to noise at work or in leisure activities, or indeed the use of certain types of medication, are far more likely to be the cause of tinnitus than a minor RTA

In other cases the claimant may have no symptoms of tinnitus at all but is seeking to inflate their damages by describing symptoms which they have looked up or been told about by others. Google has a lot to answer for. Checking the alleged onset and duration of symptoms in the various documents provided by the claimant and considering inconsistencies will be key.

Discrediting the symptoms of tinnitus will obviously lead to a reduction in the damages paid to the claimant but could have a much more significant effect on the outcome of the claim. If a claimant is found to be fundamentally dishonest in relation to part of his claim, any genuine element of the claim will be dismissed in accordance with section 57 of the Criminal Courts and Justice Act. So claimants who are found to have fabricated symptoms of tinnitus – an entire aspect of the general damages claim – stand to see their entire claim for damages struck out and having to pay the insurer’s costs. 

This gives a real incentive to identify these claims and give them the attention they deserve.

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