Whiplash – a better understanding (part two)
Part two: potential complications and political considerations
In part one of my recent article about whiplash I looked at the science of the condition itself.
Working to the basis of a scientifically verified condition, and an accepted scientific link between the injury and a road traffic collision, we must also consider potential complications beyond the neck, back and shoulder pain aspect.
I referred in part one to the condition “chronic pain”.
On 15th June 2015 an article was published in the medical journal “Spine” (here’s the link if you’d like to take a look: http://journals.lww.com/spinejournal/Citation/2015/06150/The_Rapid_and_Progressive_Degeneration_of_the.14.aspx) in which scientists claim to have discovered a way of predicting which whiplash sufferers will be likely to develop chronic pain. Scientists measured the level of muscle to fat ratio in a part of the spine often affected by whiplash. They found that the ratio was significantly higher in those patients who continued to report severe symptoms than in the recovered/mild group.
The group concluded that, consistent with previous evidence, muscle degeneration occurs soon after injury but only in those patients with poor functional recovery.
Perhaps not so fake after all?
Chronic pain however isn’t the only long-term complication both the media and the insurance industry prefer to remain silent upon. In November 2008 an article was published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine by RMD Tranter (Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Director of Sussex Audiology Centre) and J R Graham (Hospital Practitioner, Ear Nose and Throat) which found that 10% of patients who have suffered whiplash injury will develop symptoms such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears), deafness and vertigo. The authors refer to a case of a 50 year old lady who developed high frequency hearing loss following a whiplash injury, having seen the same leady three years prior to and having undertaken a hearing test (audiogram) that showed perfectly normal hearing.
Further, the authors state that in their medical practice they have seen patients develop damage to the inner tubes of their ears after whiplash injuries. They provide the scientific explanation, which involves displacing of crystals in the ear which stimulates nerve endings. Whilst they recognise some hearing symptoms are difficult to prove, they state “for the majority there are specific tests, which can be undertaken to quantify the extent and severity of symptoms”.
If 1 in 10 patients may develop such hearing complications (though for many short-lived), and others may develop scientifically-validated chronic pain, my view is we should be very careful not to assume all whiplash injuries are minor or in some way exaggerated as such ongoing complications can have a significant impact upon the level of personal injury compensation recovered.
So, we’ve looked at the scientific rationale for both whiplash and its potential complications. However, that said, fraudsters are often caught out whether through social media, inconsistent evidence or otherwise. The insurance industry often argue many claimants that are not caught out are still exaggerated or fraudulent.
One of the insurance industry’s complaints was that doctors in personal injury cases were too keen to diagnose whiplash for their own financial gain.
In 2015 the Government introduced a new medical reporting system for whiplash cases called “MedCo”. The idea being solicitors were no longer able to pick certain doctors to prepare medical reports in whiplash claims: it would have to be the first doctor on the list. The rationale was that as selection was random doctors would not be incentivised to diagnose whiplash if they did not feel it was genuinely present.
Whilst there never was anything to prove doctors were over-diagnosing whiplash, this change would have removed such concerns.
As I’ve blogged about before, the next set of changes in the wings plan to either ban whiplash claims altogether or significantly reduce the amount of compensation payable. The current government seem keen to follow the insurance industry’s suggestions in this regard but the obvious problem is that instead of tackling the minority of fraudsters the changes will most adversely impact genuine people, being the majority of claimants.
A better move would have been tougher repercussions for those who fabricate or exaggerate injuries, or perhaps for other doctors to review medical reports to check the diagnosis made. Changes of this nature would tackle the fraudsters but leave genuine claimants unaffected.
For now whiplash will remain a controversial topic.
By James Winterbottom, personal injury solicitor Manchester.
Aston Knight Solicitors Bury Manchester are a specialist firm of solicitors that specialise in serious injuries including clinical negligence claims and work injury compensation. If you would like to discuss further please contact a member of our team on 0161 447 9191 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free and confidential discussion.