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Part one: Introduction

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “whiplash”?  If you are outside of the legal profession, and have never suffered such an injury yourself, you most likely thought something like “fraud”.  Ask someone who has suffered whiplash and you’ll most likely get an answer such as “painful”.

One could argue it is similar to many people’s reaction to the word “benefits” which to many would provoke a response along the lines of “scrounger”, but to say a steel worker with a family between jobs following the closure of his mill the response will be closer to “crucial” or “lifeline”.

I have long since been intrigued by the polarity in views between the affected and unaffected in both instances.  Are we all by nature incredulous, or is something else at play?

A possible explanation is something I will call the “amplification effect”.  This effect is created in part by media reporting bias.  For instance, a newspaper is more likely to feature a story about a fraudulent whiplash claim, or benefit cheat being caught out, than one of a genuine instance.  This makes perfect sense of course as it is far more interesting to read about a fraudulent matter than a genuine case.  The danger however is that, continuing the parallel, if all one hears of/reads about are the minority of fraudulent matters, the true ratio of genuine to fraudulent instances is masked and the impression rather is that such fraud is widespread, even prolific.  In recent years the insurance industry and their lobby groups, being those who have to pay compensation in whiplash cases, have capitalised upon this and to a large extent have succeeded.  I have blogged previously on the political changes the insurance industry has managed to push through.

Now, very few accident injury solicitors would be as credulous as to argue whiplash fraud, or at least exaggeration, does not exist.  Whilst I cannot speak for other solicitors I have been in legal practice since 2007 and have never knowingly encountered a fraudulent or exaggerated whiplash claim for personal injury compensation but, I can hear you ask, if all you have to go on is the client’s description of their symptoms how do you know they are genuine?

Perhaps we should first take a look at what “whiplash” actually is.

“Whiplash” – Definition

It may come as a surprise to those whose knowledge of whiplash comes only from what they hear of in the media but, to both the medical and legal profession, whiplash isn’t actually controversial.  The NHS website describes whiplash as a “type of neck injury caused by the sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways.  It occurs when the soft tissues in the neck become stretched and damaged (sprained).”  Further, “road traffic accidents and collisions” are described by the NHS as a “common cause” of whiplash.

Further to that, the NHS recognises though many will feel better within a few weeks or months, sometimes symptoms can last up to a year or more.

The renown international Mayo Clinic recognises some people will continue to have pain for years after the injury occurred and that some people will unfortunately develop “chronic pain.”  Chronic pain is a big topic in itself and I don’t have time to go into it here but, very basically, it is when the body’s response to pain becomes abnormal and often permanent even when an injury has fully healed.

What’s going on here? Has the entire medical profession the world over been fooled by fraudsters?  In my view highly unlikely; it is very hard for a condition to even gain scientific acceptance in the first place, but to be accepted globally, over many decades, requires consistent scientific support from a wide range of sources.

Not only is the condition itself internationally scientifically verified, so are a number of potential complications people can go on to suffer following a whiplash injury and we will look at these in part two, which you can find here.

By James Winterbottom, Solicitor at Aston Knight Solicitors Bury

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 399 1231, or, for a free and confidential discussion.

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