Whiplash Fraud Bus-ted

Party Bus Revellers Whiplash Claim Dismissed by Aviva

Insurance giant Aviva released details to the press recently of a rather alarming case involving 46 people all claiming compensation for whiplash against the driver of a single Ford Fiesta following an accident in September 2012.

According to Aviva, the Fiesta bumped into a party bus at a roundabout in Crewe at less than 10 mph. It claims that most of the passengers were unaware of the collision, and none sought medical attention, going on to spend the evening in a nightclub.

However, subsequently all 46 passengers decided to put in compensation claims against Aviva, the insurers for the car driver, claiming to have suffered whiplash.

Aviva fought the claims, alleging that the impact was too minor to have possibly caused any injury, and that the passengers were attempting insurance fraud. 23 of the claimants appointed solicitors to pursue their claims but eventually all the cases were dropped.

First things first, any sort of fraud is wrong. Claiming compensation for an injury when you haven’t been injured is fraud, and is illegal. People who make false injury claims are frequently prosecuted, and at the very least find their ‘no win-no fee’ agreements invalidated, leaving them potentially liable for thousands of pounds in legal fees.

Secondly, despite the impression given by this kind of story, not everyone is at it. Whilst the insurance industry has in the past suggested that around half of whiplash claims are fraudulent, it has never provided any concrete evidence for that.

But as mentioned in the article about the crash, Aviva are only investigating about 5% of claims made to them as possible fraud, and even then it is only those that Aviva themselves suspect may be fraudulent, actual false claims may be far fewer. In recent years around 700,000 claims for compensation per year have been made following road accidents, but the investigations of the Insurance Fraud Bureau who investigate all sorts of false insurance claims (not just road accidents) have given rise to an arrest rate of only about 125 suspected fraudsters a year.

In fact if someone wants to commit insurance fraud, doing it through an injury claim is a particularly difficult way of going about it. If, for example, someone had a house fire and wanted to claim more than they were entitled to, they would only have to fill in their insurance claim form to claim a more expensive TV than the one they had (although of course one would hope they wouldn’t).

But if they wanted to make a fake injury claim, they would first go to their own solicitor and explain about their supposed injury. Claimant solicitors do not want any part of insurance fraud, and if at any point it becomes clear their client is lying about the accident, they will stop acting for them.

They would then have to go to an independent medical expert, arranged by the solicitor, and explain to them the exact nature of their symptoms. Saying “my neck hurts” is unlikely to cut it. The doctor will want to know what part of the neck hurts, when it hurts, how far it can move in various directions, and all sorts of other details. If the symptoms reported by the patient don’t add up – and the doctor knows what these injuries should look like – the claim is in trouble.

Then they need to get it past the defendant’s insurance company. The injured person isn’t the insurer’s customer, and the insurers won’t do them any favours. If they think the claim is suspicious, they will fight it; after all, they fight quite enough non-suspicious claims.

And then the final hurdle, if the claim gets that far, is that the false claimant must go to court, stand up and give evidence, and convince a judge that they are telling the truth.

Does all of that sound like whiplash claims are a soft touch?

Whiplash fraud does happen, of course, as all crime happens. It may well be that the passengers on that bus convinced each other to make false claims – certainly it sounds that way from the report. However, the report has been fed to the journalist by Aviva and comes across as very one sided.

Are things as they seem? It suggests that only half of the claimants went to solicitors. Whilst it is possible to make a claim without lawyers, most people would use solicitors and would use them from the start, they generally wouldn’t start the claim and then only go to solicitors if the claim was rejected. Did the 23 who didn’t use solicitors really put in a false injury claim then? Or were they perhaps contacted by the insurer, maybe mentioned a bit of neck pain, but took matters no further?

Aviva also said in the report that they were only bringing this 2012 case to light now because the passengers had three years to put in a claim or to ‘appeal’. However, Insurers and their solicitor’s regularly publicise cases they have successfully defended as soon as the case ends, and press releases criticising legal action while it is still taking place are by no means unheard of. There is no reason not to have publicised this case sooner. There is also no possibility of any ‘appeal’ because there has been no court decision.

The timing of this story is instead to do with the government’s recently announced intention to reform the law on whiplash claims in the favour of the insurance companies, as highlighted in my previous article: http://www.hcsolicitors.co.uk/news/can-osborne-cure-whiplash).

In reality accidents cause real injuries, real pain and real financial hardship. Almost all people who make injury claims are genuine and only want to put right what has gone wrong, and no more. People who have had injuries, often very serious ones, caused by someone else breaking the law, should not be made to feel bad about claiming by the representatives of the very law breakers who have injured them.

Every time someone feels unable to use the law to put things right, justice has not been done.

For further help and advice on any Personal Injury matter please contact Richard Moon directly or the Personal Injury Team on 01733 882800.

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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.