If the media reports are to be believed, anybody making a claim for ‘whiplash’ is a scammer, fraudster, or simply out to make money for nothing.
My own personal experience of ‘whiplash’ is a far different story.
Today marks an anniversary for me: sadly not a pleasant one. On 18th April 1998 I was involved in a road accident. I was riding my horse along the road when an over-taking wagon clipped us. When I say ‘clipped us’ it really was just that, but the forces involved when a 25 ton wagon comes into contact with a half-ton horse were sufficient to literally throw my horse into the air. He landed upside down and slid along the road on his back. I was launched up into the air before landing head first on the road. My horse, thankfully, made a full recovery from his injuries within a few weeks. I wasn’t quite as lucky.
Having regained consciousness, I recall feeling unbearable pain in my head and fearing that I had fractured my skull. Happily, my riding hat had saved me and thankfully there were no fractures: ‘just’ soft tissue injuries.
‘Just’ Soft Tissue Injuries
Despite the absence of fractures, I was a bit of a mess. I had two completely black eyes and a huge swelling on one side of my forehead. I had a deep laceration above my left eye which needed 11 stitches. Both my knees were lacerated, bruised and badly swollen. Both hands were cut and bruised and my right hand and wrist were badly sprained and swollen. I had a large, full thickness wound on my left elbow and my left hip was badly bruised. Two of my front teeth were chipped. I felt like I had been run over by a bus …. which wasn’t that far from the truth.
I was discharged home and tried to deal with the pain, the frequent and unexpected tears (caused by shock), the nightmares (a first for me) and the feeling of devastation that was constantly present in the pit of my stomach.
Two days after my accident I also had to deal with some new and unexpected symptoms: whiplash. At the time of my accident I did not feel any pain in my neck or back but two days later I awoke to such pain and stiffness in my neck, shoulders and back that I could hardly turn my head or lift my arms. As a personal injury lawyer I recognised the symptoms of whiplash. My GP sent me off to hospital for further x-rays which came back clear. A whiplash-type injury was diagnosed.
You’ll notice that I’ve referred to the injury as a ‘whiplash-type’ injury. This is because ‘whiplash’ isn’t a medical term. What we term a whiplash injury is in fact a musculo-ligamentous injury: a soft tissue injury that affects the muscles and ligaments. An injury that doesn’t show up on x-rays or have externally visible symptoms.
Whiplash: a dirty word
This brings me to the point of this story. For many years the insurance industry has tried to undermine whiplash claims by suggesting that whiplash isn’t a ‘real’ injury; that whiplash doesn’t show up on scans and x-rays and cannot be seen; that the majority of ‘whiplash’ claims are fraudulent; that ‘whiplash’ symptoms are not a symptom of an injury but a symptom of a ‘compensation culture’ that is rife in the UK.
The insurers blame rising car insurance premiums on the ‘whiplash epidemic’ and make much of the crash for cash stories that make the headlines. Funnily enough, the 1000s of genuine, accepted claims that are made each year don’t make headline news.
After years of lobbying by insurers, in 2015 the Government announced plans to remove the legal right of claimants to claim compensation for ‘minor’ whiplash. Many people, who have never been affected by a ‘whiplash’ injury, have started to believe the insurers’ sustained anti-whiplash hype. ‘Whiplash’ has become a dirty word.
When I meet new clients who have sustained non-whiplash injuries they often tell me that they feel justified making a claim for compensation because they have suffered ‘more than just a bit of whiplash’. They are right; they most certainly are entitled to compensation: but so are the people who have suffered a whiplash injury.
Injury is injury. If the law provides a right to claim compensation for injury, that right should apply to all injuries.
The majority of the injuries that I sustained in my accident were soft tissue injuries but nobody seeing me after my accident could dispute the fact that I was injured. My injuries were there for all to see: with the exception of post-concussion headaches that I suffered for 6 months; with the exception of flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress that I suffered for over 6 months; with the exception of my ‘whiplash’ injuries which caused me no end of pain and discomfort for 18 months. You see, not all injuries are visible.
‘Just a bit of whiplash’
Sitting, standing, walking, turning, moving, sleeping – pretty much everything I did was affected by my whiplash injury. I needed physiotherapy which, far from being a nice relaxing massage, was painful treatment that I underwent in order to get at least some measure of, albeit short-lived, relief.
Sitting at my desk all day aggravated my symptoms: lying flat on my office floor trying to ease the spasms in my neck and back was a part of my daily routine. It was painful, it affected my everyday activities and it lasted longer than any of my other soft-tissue injuries. An 18 month whiplash injury: the type of injury that insurers call ‘minor’. Believe me, it didn’t feel very ‘minor’ to me at the time.
A ‘real’ injury?
I have scars on my knees, hands, arm, face and head from my accident. I don’t have any on my neck or back. There is no lasting evidence that I ever suffered a whiplash injury. It didn’t show up on any x-rays. I didn’t even feel the symptoms until 2 days after my accident. Does that make it less real as an injury? Does that mean that my whiplash ought to have been disregarded when assessing my injury compensation? Does suffering a whiplash-type injury make me part of the ‘whiplash epidemic’ or the ‘compensation culture’? Or, maybe, despite being ‘just whiplash’, it was a genuine injury deserving of compensation?
What to read next: Whiplash Reforms: Penalise the majority for the actions of the few?