AXA UK Report Targets ‘Whiplash’ Injuries; Urges Reform

July 17, 2013

AXA UK’s Whiplash Report, launched at a roundtable co-hosted by the Rt. Hon Jack Straw, MP for Blackburn and Chris Voller, AXA Claims Director and the report’s author, urges changes in the treatment of whiplash claims to prevent “exaggerated or fraudulent claims.”

AXA’s report compares whiplash claims across several countries, analyzing the “factors behind the markedly 2 different claims volumes and insurance costs – notably differences within the respective legal and medical systems.”

The report concludes that “France and Sweden provide instructive blueprints for success when tackling an escalation in whiplash claims due to suspected exaggerated or fraudulent claims.” AXA said it “believes that aspects from the French and Swedish approaches to whiplash, coupled with innovative thinking by UK policymakers, can and should be factored into the way in which the UK manages these claims.”

It points out that the average premium in France is €410 [$540], compared to €681 [$895] in the UK. In addition “whiplash injuries account for only three per cent of all bodily injury claims,” and there is “a firm emphasis on objective proof. With regards to whiplash, this means that injury is not recognized unless the medical professional is able to see evidence of injury, such as on an MRI scan or X-Ray.”

In Sweden the average premium is €369 [$485]. The country established a “Whiplash Commission” in 2002 “to counteract a spiraling number of claims. A time limit system for the onset of symptoms is used and cases where symptoms appear more than 72 hours after the incident are generally rejected by insurers.”

AXA pointed out that this is more of a “rule of thumb, as opposed to a strict law,” but the “minimum threshold was reinforced by the Whiplash Commission’s medical group in that symptoms must be discovered within three to four days after the accident otherwise it is not classed as a whiplash injury.”

Chris Voller, AXA Claims Director, said: “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. However, we believe that certain measures adopted in France and Sweden in particular offer very valuable insight into what works in practice and demonstrate several elements which could be adopted by the UK and that we believe would make a significant difference to the cost of premiums.

“We would urge the government to look at what has worked in France and Sweden – specifically in relation to the requirement for medical evidence and the implementation of a minimum time threshold – as it considers how best to manage whiplash claims moving forward.”

Key recommendations in the AXA Whiplash report included introducing a “national accredited panel of experts to assess contested whiplash claims…, including shifting the burden of proof onto the claimant in a similar manner to the French system.”

It also urged greater use of “independent medical reports,” which it said “should categorize whiplash in accordance with the ‘Modified Quebec Task Force’ scale. There should be a medical threshold below which compensation is not recoverable, e.g. medical reports could categorize Quebec grade 1 and 2 as below the threshold of compensation while grade 3 and 4 injuries receive compensation. AXA UK estimates that this would significantly reduce the number of whiplash claims.”

AXA also called for the adoption of a “minimum threshold system in the UK, similar to that used in Sweden, based on a time limit system for the onset of symptoms, after which no compensation claim is recoverable.”

In addition it proposes increasing the “Small Claims Track limit to £10,000 [app. $15,000] in respect of personal injury-related motor claims,” indicating that this “should be implemented,” along with a “ban on referral fees to personal injury lawyers.”

In that latter case AXA said urged the Government to be more vigilant and to “amend legislation if avoidance behavior becomes more common,” as “schemes are already emerging to avoid the ban on referral fees – it seems clear that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is being circumvented by those who are finding creative ways around the ban. Government should consider how best to prevent this significant driver of adverse claims activity.”

Source: AXA UK

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