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Independent medical opinion still the best guide to whiplash claims

June 19, 2012

Negative press commentary on the personal injury versus insurance industry debate, particularly in relation to whiplash claims, has put the reputation of the medical profession in an unnecessarily bad light.

In particular, the desire to cast the personal injury field as being swamped by false whiplash claims has led to the insinuation that there are less than professional medical personnel who connive with claimants to allow false claims to succeed or even that doctors, and especially GPs, simply do not know their own business.

This is an unfortunate trend that totally misrepresents both the role and independence of the medical profession as a whole and their expertise in making a diagnosis of injuries, including whiplash.

The reality is that the very best people to make an independent and informed opinion about an injury like whiplash, for which there is no easy clear cut process for diagnosis, are the very doctors who have been so maligned.

When claimants seek an opinion about their injuries with a GP or an Orthopaedic Surgeon, the doctor’s diagnosis is based on their own experience and they are simply recording that the symptoms, as they see them and as described by the patient, are the same as what is known as whiplash.

These medical professionals obtain their salaries totally independently of whatever is decided in the courts and stand outside the whole personal injury claims process.

In fact, it could be said that because of the mutual efforts of both lawyers and insurers that the reporting by the medical profession has reached a much higher level of efficiency. This was a fact pointed out by Lord Justice Jackson himself when commenting on the role of Doctors in regulating the cost of personal injury claims during his review in 2010, which eventually led to the Lapso legislation.

One of the more often heard comments that has been bandied around is the rash of exorbitant whiplash claims that have been the result of “car park incidents” in which somebody has been jolted by a car at very low speeds.

The real evidence hardly shows that these sorts of claims are in any way common.

For whiplash claims to generate compensation payouts of £4000 or more, for instance, the injuries have to be proven to have been established over a considerable period of time – 18 months as a minimum. In one piece of research conducted into a Doctors’ diagnosis, only 3% of whiplash symptoms had been described as lasting more than 18 months in a total of 50,000 GPs reports over a two and a half year period between 2009 and 2011.

The real evidence does not match the comments made about “excessive” whiplash claims inflating insurance premiums. The real point here is that whenever doctors diagnose whiplash as an injury – or any other injury caused in an accident for that matter, except for a potentially tiny percentage of cases – the diagnosis is the best independent evidence for the existence of the injury.

In the long run, road traffic accidents and the very real injuries that can result from them are best reduced by better legislation on driver behaviour, better education of the driving public, better roads – and better behaviour on part of drivers themselves, rather than wishful thinking that the injuries do not actually exist.