Whiplash woes behind AXA call for MRI proof and 3-day PI claims limit

July 22, 2013

AXA would like to see UK claims for Whiplash injury brought in line with France and Sweden. In addition, the insurance giant is calling for a 3-day post-accident window limit to record a claim.

Personal injury lawyers are counter-claiming that at least some of the statistical data used is inaccurate; it’s also suggested that the recommendations call for information that insurers themselves state is impossible to substantiate.

So who’s right, AXA or personal injury solicitors? Let’s look at the facts before we sit in judgement.

What does the report hope to achieve?

The UK has become known as the whiplash capital of the world. Accountable for almost eight out of ten claims for motoring accidents (78%) according to the AXA report, it’s not difficult to see why.

Recommendations from this year’s Jackson report largely impacted upon the fees that personal injury solicitors can now charge for small claims. With whiplash claims at a five-year low, the reduction in fees has already began to have the desired effect, it would seem.

So why the need for AXA’s report before the Jackson reforms can be truly evaluated?

The report tackles the issue from another angle: substantiating whiplash claims and imposing a (very short) time limit from the date of the accident to actually beginning to claim.

The sentiment is sound: to weed out fraudulent whiplash claims in an attempt to drive down the cost of car insurance.

Yet the inaccuracies in the report’s ‘evidence’ and existing insurance companies’ stance on the submission of medical documentation as evidence cast doubt on the perceived effectiveness of AXA’s recommendations.

Fact: where medical evidence supports Whiplash, claims are lower

Where medical evidence is mandatory to corroborate injury in France, whiplash accounts for only 3% of all RTA personal injury claims.

To submit a whiplash claim to the French courts, the injury not only has to be substantiated by an X-Ray or MRI scan, but also has to be conducted by an independent medical professional whose expertise lies in the field.

Conversersely in the UK, AXA suggests that there have been cases where doctors have diagnosed whiplash injury over the telephone.

If this is so, it may say more about the availability of professional medical services in UK compared to France rather than UK doctors’ attitude to whiplash.

This makes AXA’s second recommendation, that all claims for whiplash have to be documented within three days of the accident, even less plausible.

Seriously, if the Government was to support AXA’s recommendations, would RTA victims be availed of more specialist medical consultants at hospitals? More about that in a moment.

But what we know to be true is that in France, car insurance is comparatively cheaper than in the UK. The report suggests a correlation between the reduction in whiplash injury claims through the need for strict medical evidence and lower motor insurance premiums.

Why AXA’s recommendations may not pan out as they assume

There are two main factors affecting why a 3-day window for reporting whiplash is simply not big enough:

  • Soft tissue injuries like whiplash sometimes don’t materialise until after three days
  • Unless the victim is sent to hospital immediately after the accident and Government empowers the NHS to make more specialists available, it’s unlikely that victims going through their NHS doctor will even be seen within three days, let alone get the injury referred to hospital, scanned or X-Rayed, diagnosed and reported to a personal injury solicitor within such a short time period

Further doubt has been cast on the credibility of the AXA report for a schoolboy error in fact reporting. Whether the error was there to create sensationalism, present a false image of the whiplash endemic or was a pure oversight, personal injury solicitors will neither tolerate or appreciate its inclusion.

The AXA Whiplash Report contains a foreword from the group’s claims director, Chris Voller. In that foreword, Voller clearly claims that the cost of motor insurance is in the ascendancy because whiplash claims are similarly on the increase.

What Voller’s advisors failed to mention was that the DWP’s compensation department was asked for the official whiplash figures by APIL for 2012/13.

In April, those figures were published and clearly showed that, compared to 2011/12’s 547,000+ claims, the 2012/13 total stood at less than 489,000.

A drop in excess of 10% year-on-year hardly constitutes the continual rise in whiplash injuries Voller blames for rising motor insurance premiums.

In addition to all of the factual inaccuracies, one firm of personal injury solicitors, Bott & Co, has gone on record stating that in its experience, insurance companies suggest that it’s impossible to submit ‘objective proof’ such as an MRI scan or X-Ray when dealing with personal injury claims.

The question is, therefore, how could the presentation of such proof add credence to any injury claim unless insurance companies perform a complete U-turn on their stance on medical evidence to date?

Furthermore, given the additional cost of specialist consultants and the x-rays and MRI scans the report calls for, it would be difficult for the Government to sanction these recommendations without a massive U-turn of their own with the NHS budget.

The sentiment of the report is agreeable; the inaccuracy of the data and the cost of implementation, however, undermine it as a document that has any real power to force change.

The document itself is available to download on the AXA website.

Have Your Say:

  • Is there mileage in AXA’s recommendations?
  • What can genuinely be done to deter fraudulent whiplash claims, if not?