Whiplash: What is it and how is it caused?
A whiplash injury is a soft tissue injury to the neck, typically resulting from a road traffic accident or accident at work. For instance, the victim may be travelling in a car, or stationary in the vehicle, which is involved in a rear end shunt by another vehicle.
Whiplash is one of the most common forms of injury caused by road traffic accidents. The physiological cause usually involves the head being thrown forward then backwards (or vice versa), or sideways, resulting in muscles or ligaments being stretched and or torn. Sometimes, the back can also be affected by whiplash.
The symptoms may include neckache and headaches; back ache; blurred vision; memory loss and dizziness. The symptoms may manifest themselves immediately, while in other cases they can take days to appear.
How long do whiplash injuries last?
The majority of whiplash injuries are mild and will clear up after only a few days. In other cases, whiplash injuries may persist for weeks, months and sometimes years with long-running treatment and medication being required.
How is whiplash treated?
The standard procedure for effectively treating a whiplash injury is to keep moving, carry on your normal activities as far as possible, and not resting the neck for too long. The NHS recommends:
- Applying an ice pack several times a day for 10 minutes as a time (warm compresses after a few days)
- Pain relief such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
- Maintain a good posture
- Using a supportive pillow when sleeping
Making a claim for whiplash injuries
If you have sustained a whiplash injury following an accident that was not your fault, you are legally entitled to be compensated. A personal injury claim will not usually be made for very mild whiplash injuries – in fact, many insurers have been willing (until recently) to pay a small amount of compensation as part of the insurance claim without requiring evidence in support.
If your injuries are such that a formal legal claim is necessary, it is important to gather as much evidence and information as possible in support of your claim, including:
- Obtain full details of the other driver, the vehicle, and their insurers. It is also useful to request contact details from any independent witnesses at the scene.
- Any photographs of the vehicles and the scene of the accident.
- A police accident report/case number if applicable.
- Seek medical attention if you have not already done so.
- Contact the third party insurers and inform them of the accident and the fact that you have been injured.
Most importantly, take expert advice from an experienced personal injury solicitor. They will be able to advise you on the merits of your claim; how much it may cost; and how long it might take. If you proceed, you will most likely need to have expert medical evidence to help your claim.
How much will I get?
This all depends on the extent of your injury. Whiplash that lasts 2 years will naturally attract a higher award than an injury that was fully healed within six months. Most whiplash injury claims which get better within one year will receive between £500 and £3,500.
Currently, very few whiplash cases actually reach court as insurance companies are keen to reach an out-of-court settlement and resolve the matter quickly. This means the insurer will avoid the costs of going to court. However, where there is a dispute about liability, it can take longer.
Whiplash claims reform
Changes are proposed to reform the law relating to whiplash claims. The Government (with the overwhelming support of insurance companies, but not of the legal profession) is proposing to
curtail people’s ability to recover compensation for injuries suffered through no fault of their own. It is aiming “to crack down on minor, exaggerated and fraudulent soft tissue injury (‘whiplash’) claims stemming from road traffic accidents” – ie. to tackle the perceived compensation culture.
Under the proposal, compensation awards will be capped at £400, and victims of accidents which were not their fault will have to go through the formal small claims court procedure for whiplash (and other) injury claims valued at under £5,000.