Research highlights differing attitudes to whiplash claims

Online YouGov research commissioned by has revealed some surprising attitudes to whiplash claims amongst the public, with Brits over 15 times more likely to view claims as “honest” if they know someone who has made a claim. The 2015 autumn statement outlined a government consultation on ending the right to compensation for minor whiplash injuries altogether.

The government’s proposed reforms to personal injury and lower value soft tissue claims are set to “restrict access to justice for thousands of people” and the fear is these cases could end up in the small claims court, without legal representation. This research challenges popular assumptions and highlights the gulf in the public mind in terms of the perception of whiplash claims and the reality.

Those who didn’t know someone who had claimed for whiplash were far more likely to view the majority of whiplash claims as fraudulent, with only 6 per cent of British respondents describing such claims as reasonable; just 2 per cent describing them as honest; 20 per cent describing them as fraudulent and 44 per cent describing the claims as exaggerated. Yet if respondents know someone who has claimed, the figures rise to 21 per cent describing that type of claim as reasonable; and 34 per cent describing it as honest. Only 13 per cent of these people said they would describe the claim as fraudulent, while 28 per cent would describe them as exaggerated.

Moreover, 72 per cent agreed that people should feel safe and if someone else’s negligence has caused them to have an accident or be injured, they are entitled to financial compensation and should be able to claim. The results (which can be seen here in full) reveal the differences in the perception between those who know someone who’s made a whiplash claim, opposed to those who do not have this experience.

Managing director of John Quail thinks this could be down to the negative media attention whiplash claims continue to receive.

“There has undoubtedly been a stigma surrounding ‘compensation culture’ and ‘ambulance chasers’ for a number of years, and the results of this survey show how this has influenced public perception of whiplash claims. The research makes clear that if you know someone who has made a claim – and have an understanding of the real life process – you can see claims for what they are; genuine redress for pain, suffering and hardship.”

The autumn statement announced raising the minimum amount to go to small claims court from £1000 to £5000, with the intention to ‘stamp out dishonest claims’. It has been reported it could save the insurance industry £1bn, which insurance companies have said will reduce premiums – a promise made in 2012 by insurance companies, but whether this promise has been honoured remains unclear.

“With the new reforms you may be unable to be supported by a solicitor when making a claim, which could prove a huge barrier to many in need of compensation to help with medical costs and support if they’re unable to work for any period of time,” added Quail. “Insurance companies insist the public will save £40-£50 on their insurance premiums, but similar promises have been made in the past. If they do follow through with this, it is a small reward for what could be a much bigger restriction of justice.”

Despite the repeated claims of a ‘culture of fraud’, the YouGov results reveal the biggest barrier to claiming for a whiplash injury was fear of the driver’s insurance premiums rising, with 27 per cent agreeing it would potentially stop them making a financial claim. The second biggest barrier was fear of being branded as someone jumping on the ‘claims bandwagon’ (23 per cent).

“The YouGov survey is a challenge to those convinced that people make spurious claims for whiplash,” added Quail. “In fact, many would be fearful of claiming at all, with 59 per cent agreeing that peoples should accept accidents and injuries are part of life, and rejecting jumping on the ‘claims bandwagon’. The media onslaught that has warped the public perception of whiplash claims, coupled with new government legislation, will make it difficult for victims to receive the compensation they need. It’s time the public were made aware of the legitimacy of the majority of whiplash claims, to ensure victims have access to the legal procedures and compensation that they are entitled to.”

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