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AXA propaganda proposals for whiplash reform dismissed by MASS

Craig Budsworth Director of MedCo and past honorary member of MASS

Last week seemed to be the week for propaganda, as AXA followed the Health Secretary’s lead of using out of date and false information to boost their cause, by releasing a proposal for whiplash reform based on out of date and inaccurate figures.

After reading the proposals from one of the country’s top insurers, the chairman of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS), Craig Budsworth (pictured), labelled it ‘highly biased’ and proceeded to criticise the logics that the report was based on.

It was clear from the moment AXA claimed that their report was ‘allied with those that the government is considering’ that this was merely the latest in a long line of carefully put together articles to stroke the ego of the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, and his team of ‘access to justice butchers’ at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

The report itself was as farcical as the figures previously produced by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to the Transport Select Committee’s whiplash inquiry, which were revealed to be 200% inaccurate and based on reports gathered no fewer than nine years ago.

One section of AXA’s report refers to France and the percentage of all bodily injuries that whiplash injuries represents. In the report it states that this is only 3% but what it fails to notify is that these figures were taken from 2004. Even the ABI themselves have admitted, in more recent research, that this figure has now increased to 30%.

The report also discusses other European countries such as Sweden. Here the report highlights how whiplash claims are being rejected by insurers but, as the chairman of MASS points out, this does not necessarily represent good practice and is certainly not something to model our system on.

He said: “Other countries may have a smaller proportion of whiplash claims, but this is likely to mean that genuine accident victims are not compensated and cannot access the support and rehabilitation services that they need.”

In terms of AXA’s radical proposals to combat our alleged whiplash problem (remember recent government figures has revealed that the amount of whiplash claims being made in the UK has decreased by 11% in the last year) there is nothing about them that hasn’t already been suggested.

Within the report AXA went on to make the laughable claim that the government needs to be vigilant over the referral fee ban, which coincides nicely with fellow insurers Direct Line’s announcement, this week that they are applying for Alternative Business Structure (ABS) status so that they can profit from the personal injury claims industry.

They also made suggestions for x-rays and MRI scans to be introduced in order to provide evidence of whiplash injury. In response to this point Craig Budsworth said: “There is no simple test for whiplash. It is a soft tissue injury that cannot be seen on an x-ray or MRI scan. Any injury you can see on a scan is damage to the bones or supporting structures, rather than the tissue, so it seems disingenuous to recommend that one of these expensive diagnostic tools should be required for every whiplash case.”

Mr Budsworth continued: “Every injury is different and cannot be bucketed with others in an overly simplistic grading system. Every injury must be assessed by an experienced medical professional who knows what to look for and what questions to ask each patient. These nuanced assessments are essential for stamping out fraud and MASS has long advocated a system that requires a medical examination before any compensation is paid.

“Their experience is crucial is helping us to address fraud and they provide the best assessment of the severity of the injury.”

It is clear from these proposals that the insurance industry truly doesn’t understand what a whiplash injury is and are keen to dismiss it altogether.

AXA also recommended that whiplash injuries should be categorised in accordance with a Canadian scale of 0-4. This would see 0 representing no neck pain and 4 representing chronic neck pains and fracture or dislocation. On this basis AXA suggest that only injuries graded 3-4 should receive compensation.

This sort of a graded system simply wouldn’t work, mainly because in a lot of cases symptoms of a whiplash injury can take weeks to affect the accident victim. This lack of foresight also displayed how poorly thought through the proposal had been, as Mr Budsworth explains: “The Quebec Task Force system was developed in context of treatment recommendations rather than eligibility for compensation. It has always been viewed with a high degree of scepticism due to its weak evidential base. Excluding grades 1 and 2 from the compensation process would prevent all but a very small proportion of genuine injuries from receiving damages.

“Ultimately this will push the cost from the at fault driver’s insurer to the taxpayer. All treatment costs will be borne by the NHS and the new benefits system that would have to support claimants unable to work as a result of their injuries.”

So the very people that the insurance industry claims they are trying to help i.e. taxpaying consumers, would in fact be left to pick up the cost if genuine whiplash injury claimants are denied the damages they need, and are entitled to, to cover rehabilitation costs and loss of earnings.

Surely anyone reading that back to themselves will now realise why the insurers are really so desperate to introduce these radical reforms. The only ones who benefit from them are the insurers themselves as they will save thousands on not having to pay out in damages to genuine victims of whiplash injury.

Chris Voller, who is AXA’s claims director, said of the report: “Our research looks at examples from across the globe where various countries have been successful in preventing the escalation of whiplash claims, including innovative work in Germany, Canada and Switzerland.”

Well firstly this research is wholly inaccurate based on the fact the figures quoted within it were collected almost a decade ago which just shows the depths the insurers will go to in order to rid of whiplash claims for good. Furthermore the report displays the insurance industry’s ignorance towards whiplash as a medical condition and the needs of the genuine claimant.

The facts are simple. The amount of whiplash claims being made is, according to the government’s own figures, on the decrease and at the lowest level since 2009 so AXA’s research based on dated and inaccurate figures is therefore careless and not representative of the truth.

Finally the proposals from AXA, like most of the proposals from the insurance industry to reform the way the whiplash claims process works, simply do not add up and if implemented will end up depriving the genuine accident victim the damages they need to help their recovery and as a knock on effect cost the taxpayer a lot more money as a result.

Image source(s)

1. MASS; http://www.mass.org.uk/solicitors/our-management-committee/

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