MPs on the transport select committee said today that the government should consider bringing in laws to restrict whiplash claims if the Jackson reforms failed to reduce them.
MPs said in a follow-up to last year’s report into the cost of motor insurance that they were “not convinced that a diagnosis unsupported by any further evidence of injury or personal inconvenience arising from the injury should be sufficient for a claim to be settled”.
They went on: “In our view, the bar to receiving compensation in whiplash cases should be raised. If this were possible by means of an insurer taking a case to court and establishing new case law we suspect this would already have happened.
“We note the government’s argument that its legal reforms should reduce the money in the system and encourage insurers to defend claims more vigorously.
“If the number of whiplash claims does not fall significantly once these changes are implemented there would in our view be a strong case to consider primary legislation to require objective evidence of a whiplash injury, or of the injury having a significant effect on the claimant’s life, before compensation was paid.”
The select committee said the number of RTA claims notified to the Compensation Recovery Unit had increased from 466,097 in 2005-06 to 790,999 in 2010-11.
It said the number of accident victims had gone down in the same period, from 258,404 in 2006 to 208,648 in 2010.
In a further attack on claimant personal injury lawyers, MPs said one way to help reduce personal injury premiums might be to consider whether low-value claims using the online portal were “reasonable”.
They called on the government to review the operation of the portal, “looking in particular at how the fixed costs associated with the protocol relate to the actual cost of the work involved and whether use of the protocol acts as an incentive for insurers to concede claims which ought to be defended”.
Donna Scully, chair of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), said the organisation was “deeply concerned” about report’s recommendations on whiplash.
“The issue isn’t just about fraudulent claimants,” Scully said. “It is as much about insurers rushing to settle claims before they have seen medical reports.
“We strongly urge the committee to look again at this issue in more detail and consider the full range of available evidence, before jumping to a potentially premature and highly damaging conclusion.”
A spokeswoman for APIL said: “Whiplash injuries can be extremely painful and can often linger, leaving some people with chronic conditions. It must be remembered that the burden of proof lies with the victim.
“The defendant has every right, and opportunity, to challenge medical opinion if it is thought to be wrong.
“Any measures which risk blocking people from making valid claims will leave injury victims and taxpayers effectively subsidising the insurance companies who have already accepted our premiums.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the government was taking “robust steps” to crack down on the “compensation culture” which increased motor insurance premiums.
“We are banning referral fees in personal injury cases and reforming ‘no win, no fee’ agreements to remove incentives for excessive litigation, and to help to reduce the costs of personal injury claims,” he said.
“We are very aware of the current concerns around the development of a ‘whiplash culture’ and the suggestions which have been made to make it more difficult for people to bring whiplash claims. We will consider the committee’s proposals very carefully in deciding the best way forward on this issue.”