Claiming compensation for a whiplash injury
Whiplash is one of the most common personal injuries that people claim compensation for – with more than 1,500 whiplash claims being made in the UK every day, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
It is often maligned as a faker’s claim – indeed the government is currently taking steps to try to limit the number of whiplash claims. However, if you have suffered a whiplash injury it can cause a huge amount of pain and suffering – often forcing you to take time off work to recover and lose earnings as a result – in which case you are perfectly entitled to make a claim for compensation.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury which usually affects your neck, but can also cause pain in your back or shoulders. Such an injury often arises as a result of a road traffic accident.
The impact of a crash forces the head to move suddenly – backwards and forwards or side to side depending on where your car was hit – while your body is held in place by your seatbelt. This movement puts an enormous amount of pressure on the tendons and ligaments in your neck, causing them to overstretch.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
The symptoms of whiplash can take several hours to manifest themselves after your accident. They can include stiffness or soreness in the neck when you move your head, reduced movement, dizziness, headaches, and pain in other parts of your body such as arms, shoulders and back.
Some people recover after a few days, but generally it will take up to three months for the symptoms to ease. For some people though, the recovery period can be even longer, with about a third of people still experiencing pain after three months; and in two per cent of cases whiplash causes a permanent disability.
What should you do if you think you have whiplash?
You should seek medical attention straight away if you think you have a whiplash injury and your symptoms don’t improve with the use of pain-killers. Discuss your symptoms with your GP who can decide whether you need to go for an X-ray to check for serious injury.
If whiplash is diagnosed, you will probably be prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and advised on what stretching exercises you can do to help your neck regain more movement. They may also advise the use of ice or heat packs, massage or sometimes physiotherapy.
Can I make a whiplash injury compensation claim?
If you have suffered a whiplash injury which wasn’t your fault and you have suffered as a result, you have the right to bring a compensation claim.
The amount of compensation you receive will depend on the seriousness of your injury, your long-term prognosis, and how it has affected your life, but could include damages for:
- pain and suffering (mental or physical);
- loss of earnings;
- additional medical treatment or rehabilitation;
- out-of-pocket expenses;
- adaptations required for your home.
What evidence do I need to provide?
To strengthen your claim you should gather evidence at the scene of the accident and produce evidence of how the injury has affected your life afterwards. This includes:
- photographs of the scene of the accident and your injuries;
- names and contact details of any potential witnesses;
- details of any police report;
- records of any medical treatment you received following the accident;
- any CCTV footage of the accident;
- details of any expenses which have arisen from your injury, and of those going forward, such as time you need to take off work to recover;
- a written account of the accident and how your injuries have affected your mental, physical and financial state.
What are time limits for bringing a claim?
You usually have three years from the date of your accident or from when you become aware of the seriousness of your injuries (whichever comes later) to make a compensation claim under the Limitation Act 1980. However, if you are claiming on behalf of a child or someone who is mentally incapacitated this ‘limitation period’ runs, respectively, from the date they turn 18 or when they regain mental capacity.
Who do I sue?
Usually your claim will be made against the insurers of the driver responsible for your injuries. If the driver drives off without stopping after the accident and can’t be traced, or if they are uninsured, it may be possible to claim compensation through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), which provides compensation to victims of accidents caused by uninsured and untraced drivers.
How can a solicitor help?
If you want to claim compensation for a whiplash injury, it is a good idea to consult a specialist personal injury solicitor at an early stage while details of the accident are still fresh in your mind and of those of everyone else involved.
They can guide you through the claim process, helping you to gather the required evidence to strengthen your claim. They will work hard to negotiate you the out-of-court settlement you deserve or offer advice and representation in court if your case goes that far.
They will refer you to a medical expert who will examine you and produce an official report to be used as evidence. This will outline how your injuries were sustained and the effect they have had on your every-day life. They will also help secure the care and rehabilitation needed to speed up your recovery and can advise how best to manage any compensation you receive.
How can I pay for my claim?
If you have a strong case, there is a good chance that your personal injury solicitor will agree to represent you on a no-win no-fee basis. This means that if you win your case, your solicitor will charge you a pre-agreed ‘success fee’, which usually amounts to only a small percentage of your final compensation settlement. If you lose your case, you pay your solicitor nothing.