If you’ve ever been involved in a road traffic accident and suffered whiplash as a result, you will know it is a genuine injury which can cause severe pain and potentially have a long-term impact on your health.
However, whilst there has quite rightly been a clampdown on a minority of cases in which injuries are exaggerated, negative media has sadly created an unfair stigma around seeking damages in such cases.
It is also anticipated that new Government reforms, which are set to launch 31st May 2021.
What changes are happening?
The Government is committed to increasing the Small Claims Court threshold from £1,000 to £5,000 for Road Traffic Accident claims – including whiplash – as part of its Civil Liability Act reforms.
From 31st May 2021, anyone injured in an RTA will not be able to instruct a lawyer to make a claim of £5,000 or less. For other personal injuries, the threshold will rise to £2,000 from £1,000.
We believe these changes are likely to impede access to justice as people genuinely injured may feel the process is to complicated or daunting, resulting in them battling on without medical assessment and appropriate treatment, and without financial recompense.
These are changes we have campaigned against at Hudgell Solicitors, and it is why we are urging people genuinely injured as a result of road traffic accidents to come forward immediately.
This will ensure claims can be submitted by experienced lawyers ahead of the law changes on May 31st 2021.
Having helped thousands of people to successfully secure damages for their pain and suffering over the past two decades, we know it can help cover the cost of crucial physiotherapy to aid recovery, recover loss of earnings from time taken off work and compensate for injuries suffered.
What will be the impact on genuine whiplash victims?
The Government believe that increasing the threshold will help to confine more low-value claims to the Small Claims Court, where solicitors’ costs are not recoverable.
In theory, this has been done to help reduce the number of potentially fraudulent claims being made for whiplash-type injuries.
As things currently stand, there will be two claims ‘portals’ for people to use from May 2021 – one for whiplash claims below £5,000 and one for all other claims.
People injured in an RTA will have to instigate and navigate the complex claims process on their own WITHOUT a legal representative – through no choice of their own.
Whiplash claims are unlikely to be accepted without medical evidence, so from May 2021, a whiplash victim may have to:
- Submit the initial case proceedings using an online portal
- Instruct their own medical expert to diagnose their injuries
- Pay £180 for a medical report if the other party denies liability
- Accept or reject (and possibly appeal) their compensation offer
What are the main concerns about the system?
At Hudgell Solicitors, we’d like to see the Government put safeguarding measures in place to prevent people being bewildered by the new portal system.
How can it be justified if a situation arises where those who qualify for smaller sums do not bother because the process puts them off making a claim?
The issue of who will pay the fixed £180 cost for a medical report also needs clarity.
If someone is injured in a road traffic accident, they may not have the finances to pay this fee up front and may choose simply not to pursue a claim.
This would only prevent justice being served, and could also lead to any physical injuries which need treatment worsening over subsequent years – at a greater collective cost to the NHS over time!
Under the current proposals, an insurer simply needs to deny liability to put the claimant under financial pressure, increasing the chances of them giving up on making a claim.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has called for medical reports to be free for all injured people, regardless of whether liability is admitted.
Proposals have also been put forward for the wrongdoer to pay the upfront cost of the medical report when liability is admitted or partially admitted.
Unfortunately, unrepresented claimants are unlikely to feel confident in the justice system when faced with experienced defendant lawyers, bankrolled by large insurance companies.
Should a situation arise where insurers put pressure on a claimant to under-settle, if they agree to do so before a thorough injury assessment has been conducted, the whole process could also begin to feel rather unethical.
Sadly, this could be a situation faced by many in less than a year.
Who will fill the void left by solicitors?
When the new reforms are implemented in April 2020, it is predicted that a new wave of claims management companies (CMC) could be established to deal with what is essentially low-value legal work.
Should a claimant put their faith in the hands of a CMC or any other representative without legal qualifications, they may end up paying to receive advice which is not as legally sound as it would have been from a qualified solicitor.
Will the rules be the same for under-18s?
‘Vulnerable’ road users have already been excluded from the new laws, but there is a lack of detail about whether children will be too.
Unfortunately, this uncertainty means it’s still not known how a claim will be brought on behalf of a minor and who would be expected to do it.
What does it mean for people with whiplash injuries now?
If you’ve suffered a whiplash-type injury in the last three years, we would urge you to take legal action immediately to avoid getting caught up in the new whiplash claims law change.
It is now less than a year before these proposed changes will be implemented.
During this time, the Government could still make changes to the proposals – and bring more clarity about how the regime will work.
But make no mistake, the changes are likely to complicate the whiplash claims procedure – and could make it harder to get compensation.
For advice about the best way to claim, please get in touch – our expert RTA team will be happy to assess the strength of your case for free.