The UK - the ‘Whiplash Chelmsford of Europe’

Is the UK the Whiplash central of Europe, is there a compensation culture happening in the UK

Insurance industry media relations departments have hit the headlines again, with the claim that the UK is the ‘Whiplash Capital of Europe’.

According to Aviva, 80% of car insurance claims last year were for whiplash, compared with only 3% in France. The reasons for this, said Aviva, was not because the French have sturdier necks than us, predictably it was all down to the ‘merry-go-round compensation culture’ we have in this country.

Oddly, almost exactly the same story appeared around a year and a half ago on the BBC, backed by the same figures, and a year ago in the Guardian. Even more oddly, all three stories bear an extremely uncanny resemblance to an Aviva press release from 2015.

It’s tempting to think that Aviva has sent its press release to the journalists concerned, who have added a couple of introductory paragraphs, but otherwise the story has simply appeared just as the insurers intended.

The figures quoted don’t stand up to any real scrutiny, of course. Aviva say they analysed the claims they received in 2014 and found 80% ‘included whiplash’. They don’t say how they analysed them to get to this figure; I doubt they went back and looked at each and every claim individually. They don’t say how they define ‘whiplash’, and they don’t say how far a claim needs to go to be classified as ‘including whiplash’. Lots of car accident claims, for example, involve people who have neck pain for a day or two but have a more serious injury, and it is the more serious injury that leads them to put in a claim. Is that a whiplash case?

The figures they give for levels of whiplash in other countries are also highly suspect. In Sweden, Germany and France (all examples of good practice according to Aviva), a whiplash is not a whiplash unless the injury is serious enough to pass certain thresholds, and there must be lots of evidence, obtained within days of the accident, to prove the injury has happened.

So if you have a crash in these countries, unless you know you need to see a doctor and insist on getting a full medical report pretty quickly, you don’t have whiplash, even if your neck hurts.

Not only that, the eye catching 3% rate of whiplash claims in France appears to be bogus after all. According to the Association of British Insurers – Aviva’s own trade body – in France the rate of whiplash claims is in fact 30%.

And according to figures from the Compensation Recovery Unit (part of the Department for Work and Pensions), whiplash claims in the UK are 43.5% of injury claims for road accidents, not 80%. That is not so very different to the figure quoted by the ABI for the average rate across Europe, 39%, and bear in mind that rules to restrict claims in other countries mean the true rate of whiplash injuries is likely to be much higher.

By the way, the claims details that go into the CRU’s data are provided by the insurers.

A favourite and eye-catching slogan trotted out by the ABI, Aviva and others is that the UK is the ‘Whiplash Capital of Europe’. Let’s put that in a bit of context. There are 69 recognised cities in the UK, and by population the middle of the pack is Oxford with 152,000 inhabitants. The UK’s rate of whiplash claims puts it about 10% higher than Europe as a whole. Add 10% to Oxford’s population and you get a city the size of…

Chelmsford.  The UK is in fact the ‘Whiplash Chelmsford of Europe’.

This isn’t just bickering over the figures. The insurance industry is vastly wealthy and can afford to get its stories in the papers. This sets the agenda and puts pressure on politicians, and this for example has led to current proposals to save insurers billions by making the victims of road accidents pay for the privilege of having the insurers put things right.

It also leads to the perception that we have a compensation culture, even if the figures show we don’t. Insurers know that every headline they can hit tends to make people think of claiming compensation as grubby, that they’re part of the problem, and that making a claim is somehow wrong.

Insurers in injury claims represent those that have gone out and, through negligence, inflicted injuries on other people. The innocent victim hasn’t done anything in particular to put themselves in harm’s way, they were just driving to work or to the shops or to visit family, just as they have many times before. Whiplash can be fairly minor, or it can hurt like hell. It can last a few days, or it can last a lifetime. It can be inconvenient, or it can keep someone away from work, leaving them and their family without an income.

Injured people are not glad to have been injured. The money doesn’t make the injury worth it. The compensation system is there to allow the victims of people who break the law to put things right. It is there to be used, and accident victims should not be made to feel bad about using it.

If you have been injured in an accident that was not your fault and would like to discuss the possibility of compensation please contact our Personal Injury team on 017333 882800 or email directly to secure the best outcome to meet the long and short term needs caused by your injuries.


Richard Moon, Senior Solicitor

Go back


Subscribe to our RSS feed to receive all of our news updates.

This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.