Legal and health professionals who allow fake injury claims are risking their livelihoods
Doctors and lawyers have been warned that they risk being struck off if found to have colluded in the fabrication of bogus whiplash claims.
Speaking at a Claims Standards Council’s whiplash seminar last week, ABI assistant director of motor and liability James Dalton admonished legal and medical professionals who have aided individuals seeking to fake the condition for financial gain.
He was speaking on the day that the government’s shake-up of civil litigation costs, including its move to ban referral fees, cleared its latest parliamentary hurdle.
Dalton said: “It is not just motorists who are involved in fraud. There is no doubt that there are a small number of professionals scamming the system.
“Doctors knowingly signing off fake whiplash injuries and claimant lawyers and claims management companies knowingly filing bogus whiplash claims are an unfortunate reality. It is worth reminding these so-called professionals that they have qualifications on the wall - is losing the ability to practise really worth it?”
“You may or may not know someone who is engaged in this activity, and these few bad apples don’t do the medical or legal professions any reputational favours.”
Dalton also raised questions over whether medical reporting agencies were producing clinically robust reports. And he fired a potshot at the CSC over its threatened judicial review of the government’s proposed referral fee ban.
He said: “I suppose they are trying to defend the indefensible because they are making so much money from the status quo.”
According to a survey of GPs, carried out in the run-up to the seminar, nearly half (47%) of those who currently provide medical personal injury reports believe that the system encourages the diagnosis of whiplash for maximum gain.
The survey found that 88% of GPs believe that not every whiplash claim should be labelled as such.
The seminar also heard a presentation by Professor Gordon Bannister of Bristol University, who has studied whiplash since the 1970s.
He estimated that insurers should expect to make major whiplash payouts in just 0.3% of vehicle collisions. Of all road accidents, he said, just 15% triggered a whiplash injury. And of these injuries, only 2% were disabling, resulting in a major compensation payout.
Of all whiplash injuries, Bannister said that 67% resulted in no pain to the victim, with 93% of vehicle occupants exhibiting no symptoms after a year, although 18% suffered a subsequent relapse.
He added that self-employed whiplash patients were half as likely to take time off as those working for an employer, but took five times as long to make a full recovery.
Banister also said that there was little evidence that physiotherapy had a beneficial effect on symptoms.
The seminar endorsed a consensus statement to be forwarded to ministers. This says that whiplash cases and claims should only be accepted if symptoms tally with the World Health Organisation’s Bone & Joint Decade Task Force criteria. This says that those involved in the diagnosis and treatment of whiplash should ensure that a whiplash claim is not inappropriately or irresponsibly encouraged.
It says the claims process itself should not encourage illness behaviour, such as individuals believing they have to ‘prove’ that they are
injured, and that decisions should be made promptly.
We say …
● Ex-justice secretary Jack Straw’s oft-repeated claim that whiplash is a bogus injury does not tally with the science, judging by the array of medical experts who lined up to discuss it at the King’s Fund last week.
● Even the insurance industry accepts that around a quarter of whiplash claims are genuine. But something must be done to curb the spiralling pay-outs to those who say they are suffering from the condition.
● Last week’s consensus statement is therefore a welcome step in shedding light on the issue.