Whiplash claims are costly to insurers, but now there are ways to challenge them, says Jon Dye

Whiplash is a strange phenomenon. An injury that is almost impossible to prove or disprove. As such it is perfect fodder for the insurance fraudster.

It is a sad indictment on our society that often the first action of the victim of a minor traffic accident is to claim a whiplash injury.

Up to 90% of all motor personal injury claims handled by the insurance industry result from whiplash injuries sustained in road traffic accidents.

This causes considerable cost to insurers and a strain on NHS resources. Each claim rarely has a high cost attached, but the cumulative impact is significant.

Datamonitor analysis and media reporting point to a downturn in the 'compensation culture' and yet still we see whiplash claims coming in thick and fast. Aggressive marketing tactics by claims farmers encourage the public to claim for anything they can.

There is scant relief to be had from a medical profession in which some practitioners may thrive on the spoils of the claims culture while few are prepared or able to challenge the intangible symptoms complained of.

Yet contrary to popular belief, not all motor accidents can cause whiplash injuries. In fact, many collisions are no more hazardous for your health than sitting down in haste.

An Alberta University research study comparing car crashes in Canada and Greece found that whiplash injury is unheard of in Greece, even though the accident profiles are the same. There is no compensation for whiplash in Greece, so it does not exist there, it concluded. This mirrors the results of a similar study previously carried out in Lithuania.

Resisting claim
If the industry is successful in identifying when whiplash injuries are much less likely, there will be a better platform for resisting the proportion of claims of this type that are fraudulent.

The Allianz Centre of Technology in Munich has been working on a model to assess the minimum speed at which a whiplash injury will occur, and the effect the angle of contact between two cars will have on the severity of an injury.

This research shows that at an impact below a certain speed, it is not possible to sustain a whiplash injury. As a result Allianz Cornhill is able to reject 20% of whiplash claims.

In the UK, additional research has been taking place at the Thatcham Motor Research Centre. In appropriate cases, this research may supplement the scientific basis of a defence against spurious claims.

Allianz Cornhill uses the term Mist - minor impact soft tissue injury - to describe claims for injuries that arise out of impacts that appear to be too minor to be the credible cause of such injury.

The expertise of claims handlers is critical to the identification of Mist cases. It is vital that they are trained to spot the key indicators of Mist claims and to investigate and handle them appropriately (see box).

These indicators may also be present in combinations with other factors such as multiple claimants, exaggerated damage or premeditated behaviour that may point towards other forms of fraud such as staged or contrived accidents and phantom passengers.

There is evidence that a rehabilitation strategy will also provide an effective deterrent to some potential Mist claims. A genuine claimant will almost always accept the offer of physiotherapy or medical treatment as soon after the accident as possible.

Fraudulent claimants simply want to get their hands on hard cash and will often back off when offered rehabilitation rather than risk exposure to an additional layer of medical evaluation.

Insurers must be prepared to refuse compromises and to take the right cases to court even when on their own merit the cost is potentially uneconomic and disproportionate to the claim. IT

' Jon Dye is Allianz Cornhill director of claims

Mist indicator

  • Low speed impact
  • Description of impact seems inconsistent with a sudden acceleration or deceleration event, for example side-to-side collisions and a minor relative speed differential
  • No damage, or minor damage to one or both vehicles
  • Airbag not deployed where greater speed would have triggered deployment
  • Vehicle damage limited to softer parts, for example door-skin, bumper or wing mirror
  • Representative of claimant operates through active claims-marketing channels
  • Injury limited to those of a non-demonstrable kind, e.g. unproven whiplash
  • Unspecified, inconsistent or excessive medical symptoms
  • No early medical consultations or treatment sought
  • Claimant declines offer of physiotherapy or other reasonable medical intervention without good reason
  • Intimation of injury used as a bargaining point or seems motivated by dissatisfaction.
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