The Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) has attacked the government for its proposals to reform the way whiplash is diagnosed and treated within the justice system.
Its chairman Craig Busworth has said it is irresponsible to even consider making changes to the civil justice system at the present time and says the changes which will come via the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and alterations to the RTA Portal, will lead to great uncertainty as well as fundamentally altering the balance between defendants and claimants.
MASS was responding after statistics from the Association of British Insurers were produced suggesting that only 7% of motor insurance claims were fraudulent and therefore widescale changes were not perhaps necessary. These figures were in contrast to more widely publicised ones which revealed that even though the number of road traffic accidents keeps on falling, whiplash claims made by motorists continue to rise.
MASS did however welcome the government’s interest in the subject as well as the proposals for new independent panels of medical experts to diagnose whiplash injuries rather than a patient going to their local GP. However it said it was important to stress that any changes, such as the ones the government were proposing, did not prevent the vast majority of those claiming whiplash injuries seeking justice.
The organisation did however criticise another controversial measure the government is intending to introduce, the raising of the small claims limit from £1,000 to £5,000. This part of the government reform is the most controversial and Lord Justice Jackson, in his 2009 review into civil litigation costs, said he found no reason to increase the limit. The consequence of the change would be to largely remove solicitors from dealing with any claims of less than £5,000 which could have a damaging effect on those seeking compensation for whiplash injuries.
Busworth said this would have significant implications going far beyond whiplash fraud and would lead to many genuine claimants failing to get the legal support and therefore the compensation they were justified in claiming for after an accident. He added that it was important that such people are not deterred from being involved in the system, especially those suffering a £5,000 whiplash injury, who would probably be in regular pain and constant discomfort for at least a year. A spokesman at theclaimsconnection.co.uk agreed that this new system is potentially flawed and could leave people without the help and advice they need.
Whilst few can argue with the government’s determination to crack down hard on whiplash fraud, many are now pursuing the argument that their measures go too far and will have serious and damaging implications for the vast majority of genuine cases. The proposals are currently going through a three-month public consultation period and ministers claim that any savings which result from the whiplash reforms would be fed back to motorists, leading to a possibility of insurance premiums possibly falling by up to £50 a year.