The high cost of whiplash claims to insurers and the NHS means that any tool that helps to eliminate fraudulent or malicious claims is to be welcomed, and Thatcham’s new development of the WITkit could herald a more responsible approach to dealing with a growing problem in the UK.
Whiplash claims account for nearly £2billion of payouts by insurance companies in the UK annually, and the cost to the NHS for consultancy fees constitutes a staggering £8billion every year. 75% of motor personal injury claims are made as a result of whiplash injuries, usually at very low impact speeds. The Association of British Insurers estimate that there are 1,200 claims a day for whiplash injuries, six times the number of workplace related injury claims. The WITkit is a new, computerised programme that gives insurers detailed information of the likelihood of whiplash injuries by analysing the results of impact tests of different cars and car seats at low speeds. The company expects this information to be ‘court admissible’ research that can be used as expert witness testimony, giving a claims court a better guideline in what has traditionally been a very grey area.
"The WITkit is of benefit not only for insurers, but for claims solicitors who have a duty to ensure that claims put forward are not fraudulent," says Nick Jervis, Solicitor (non-practising) and Managing Director of specialist Claims Company 1stClaims. "The research carried out by Thatcham gives us a clear guideline of the probability of whiplash injuries in certain scenarios, a guideline that will help us tell if a claim is probable or fraudulent," he adds.
The work carried out by Thatcham is part of an international insurance programme involving insurers from Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. The motor research centre has also enlisted the help of judges and legal experts to ensure that the evidence is admissible in court. Thatcham investigated the effects of collisions at speeds between five to 15mph. The aim was to determine whether whiplash injuries were possible below a certain speed. The aim is to produce a scientifically based ‘risk ratio’, determining whether a whiplash injury is probable at these speeds and factoring in the car type and seating arrangement.
"The importance to all industries involved cannot be underestimated," says Nick Jervis. "By giving insurers and legal experts another weapon in their arsenal, it benefits everyone, particularly those making genuine claims. It will free up the courts allowing them to tackle real cases with real victims and quite possibly lead to a reduction in overall insurance costs for all motorists," he says.
Medical diagnosis and the assessment of whiplash injuries is currently very difficult to determine, and the research carried out by the developers of the WITkit could also help to improve understanding of the effects on the human body of low-speed impacts. Its acceptance as admissible evidence could also encourage the motor industry to look closely at preventative measures that could be incorporated into future car designs to reduce the likelihood of whiplash injury being sustained.
"With over 430,000 claims for whiplash injury in the UK in 2007, anything that helps us to determine whether a claim is genuine based on scientific fact, is going to be a great help in reducing the number of potentially fraudulent claims at a very early stage in the proceedings," says Nick. "I believe that the WITkit system will revolutionise how whiplash claims are dealt with in this country, giving us and the courts the ability to focus our attention on those who really need our help and support, namely the genuine victims of this painful and often debilitating injury," he concludes.