A Ministry of Justice consultation seeking to reform the process used by motorists claiming compensation for whiplash injuries is set to affect the pockets of cyclists and pedestrians. While we agree that compensation claims for whiplash do need to be reviewed, we are horrified at the Government’s apparent sledgehammer approach outlined in its whiplash claims consultation.
Around 70% of cyclists’ compensation claims are for less than £5,000, and of those very few involve a whiplash claim. As proposed reforms stand, they will restrict access to justice for cyclist and pedestrian victims of road collisions, under the banner of whiplash reform, despite the rarity of any whiplash element to their claim. If insurers dispute liability or raise contributory negligence issues, victims will have to represent themselves or pay potentially prohibitive costs from their own damages.
Lambasting the compensation culture, and promising to reform whiplash claims, was always going to go down well in some quarters. Unless the Government’s proposals are better thought through, however, it will be genuine victims with real and evident injuries who suffer most: firstly due to other road users' negligence, and secondly because the civil justice system fails them.
“Reforms which close the door to compensation for 70% of injured cyclists represent a denial of justice. A cyclist or pedestrian hit by a negligent driver, with a potential £4,000 claim, will have to weigh up whether they want to pay £800 or more for a medical report, and then fund their lawyer’s fees out of their own potential damages, or walk away without compensation”.
Duncan Dollimore, Cyclig UK's senior road safety campaigner
Occupants of vehicles commonly claim compensation for whiplash injuries, and it is often difficult for insurers to dispute those claims. Pedestrians and cyclists claiming compensation, however, often have broken bones, stitches and injuries that are plain to see, but the Government’s plans appear to overlook the impact these reforms would have on non-motorised road users.
The so-called whiplash reforms are not restricted to those claims, partly because there is a proposal to increase the small claims limit for all personal injury claims from £1000 to £5000. That would mean a cyclist claiming compensation under £5000 would not recover their legal costs, which would have to be paid for from their own damages.
Mr Dollimore, Cycling UK's senior road safety campaigner, said:
“Instead of hunting for headlines, the Government should consider the impact these reforms will have on vulnerable road user victims. These measures are being sold to motorists by the Government as an attack on fraudulent claims, and a means of reducing insurance premiums by £40 a year, except motorists will not notice the difference, because insurance premium tax is being raised at the same time.
“At the same time as these reforms, the Government simultaneously announced compensation arrangements for rail passengers affected by repeat delays. Is their message that delay merits compensation, but a cyclist’s broken wrist does not, all because car passengers have been abusing the whiplash process?”
The consultation is due to run over the festive period, with a 6 January deadline. Cycling UK is objecting to this unusually short consultation period, particularly given the complexity of the issues. The absence of any reference to vulnerable road users within the consultation, which the Government seems to have forgotten about, suggests a longer consultation period would be prudent.
Cycling UK will be submitting a full response to the Ministry of Justice, pointing out that these reforms will punish innocent victims, and will be asking them to think again and target the real problem, i.e. whiplash claims by motorised road users.