A Pain In the Neck: UK “The Compensation Capital of Europe”:

If you accidentally scald your thumb in a bowl of hot soup at a self-service restaurant, whose fault is it: Yours or theirs? Most of us would blame ourselves. But not a man to whom this happened at the Victoria & Albert Museum. They had to pay him £400 for his “injury” because he claimed the food counter had been unattended.

In another case described by the “Daily Mail” as “incredible”, a woman who “fell into a moat while trespassing at Carlisle Castle at 2 am and suffered pelvic and hip injuries” received £15,000 from the “English Heritage” charity organization, which also paid her legal costs of £37,250.

These are just two examples of what has become known as the “compensation culture”, a phenomenon which can be traced back to 1992 in the USA when an elderly lady, Stella Liebeck, was “awarded $2.9 million in damages by a jury after spilling a cup of hot McDonald’s coffee on her lap, scalding her legs”.

According to the Manchester-based “JMW Solicitors”, the big insurance companies say that they have to keep putting up their liability premiums because of all these “vexatious and frivolous” claims, which are frequently encouraged by “claims farmers” and “no win no fee lawyers” who “take on all types of cases regardless of their merit”. The Guardian journalist, George Monbiot, however, dismisses this argument as the insurers’ way of justifying continuously increasing their charges.

As the writer Jess Brown pointed out on “Scamwatch” in December, there’s a lot of money to be made from personal injury claims. Around 825,000 per annum of these relate to motoring incidents, of which 540,000 (70%) are for “whiplash”. This compares with 47% in Germany, 32% in Spain and just 3% in France. According to the Association of British Insurers, “whiplash” costs the sector £2 billion a year and so “adds £90 to every car insurance policy”.

Jess Brown depicts the UK as “home to a huge claims management industry, the aim of which is to persuade everyone who has been involved in an accident – and some people who have not – to make a claim against the person at fault or, in most cases, their insurer”. A particular problem for “innocent drivers”, notes “moneysupermarket.com”, is when the motorist in front suddenly slams on the brakes of their car (usually at a roundabout), causing a collision. They then submit a “whiplash” claim – often “for more passengers than were actually in the vehicle at the time”. This type of fraud is known as “crash for cash”.

One notorious case, cited by the “1st Claims” company, involved a “crook who staged nearly 100 car crashes to swindle insurers and made around £46,000 which financed a luxurious lifestyle for himself and his girlfriend”. He was eventually caught and sentenced to four & half years in jail. Another “alarming case”, reported by The Guardian, has only recently been settled. In September 2012, a Ford Fiesta bumped into a “party bus” at a roundabout in Crewe at a speed of (so the Aviva insurance company insisted) less than 10 mph. All the 46 passengers submitted compensation claims – which Aviva fought, on the basis that “the impact was too minor to have possibly caused any injury”. Solicitors were appointed by 23 of the passengers to pursue their claims, but eventually all the cases were dropped.

Many “whiplash” injuries are, of course, entirely genuine and cause real physical problems. The “Technology Association” website explains that when a car is struck by another vehicle from behind, the passengers’ torsos are thrown forward, but the head stays behind, causing undue straining (hyper-extension) of the neck: “This effect is most severe if the headrests are too low and set back too far, as they are in many cars”.  Although there might not be any initial signs of any damage to the neck ligaments, these will become more apparent the day after the accident.

As “1st Claims” emphasize, many fraudsters lack medical knowledge about “whiplash”, exaggerate their symptoms and so don’t succeed in their claim. Simply declaring that  “ my neck hurts” won’t be enough: Obvious manifestations such as “muscle spasm, inflammation, limited neck movement and the fixation of the vertebral joints cannot be easily faked” The doctor will know what these injuries should look like.

New government rules regarding the right to cash compensation for minor whiplash injuries are – observed Jess Brown – due to come into effect in 2017. Until then, he suggested, anyone involved in a car accident should take photos on their mobile phone to record the extent of the damage and also who was in the other car. That will “help prevent a claim being made for injury to people who were nowhere near the scene of the crash”.

Meanwhile: The best way to avoid being caught out by “cash for crash” fraudsters is to “leave plenty of space between you and the car in front”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on February 12th, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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