Whiplash is rarely seen as a particularly serious injury. The truth is that there is a significant minority of cases that are really very serious and very difficult to live with. Even for the majority of less severe cases, whiplash injuries are extremely painful, embarrassing and debilitating.
In fact, whiplash injuries are the only injury where it is considered socially acceptable to mock and belittle chronic pain. Why is that? Well, partly because its severity is deliberately downplayed, and partly because the average person doesn’t come across all that many whiplash cases.
With so few encounters with whiplash, it’s unsurprising that…
1. You Don’t Often See The Worst Cases
It’s a fact that chronic whiplash exists, and is extremely debilitating. While the pain is often extremely intense, the worst part is that it doesn’t end and that few people take it seriously. With chronic cases of whiplash, in cases where the patient has arranged a quick and easy deal with an insurer or non-specialist solicitor early on, there might never be an appropriate amount of compensation delivered. This means you hear about the case earlier on, when the symptoms are milder and the psychological pain from living with whiplash is not so pronounced.
Once the patient is living with the condition, if their doctor will even treat it with the care and attention it deserves, they will often have to go on with their lives without any kind of support. When it is painful to drive, and painful to engage in manual labour, it is easy to fall out of work. These patients are now left in limbo, too ill to work and shop for themselves and unable to take advantage of health services to ease their pain – it’s not much wonder that we don’t encounter many serious whiplash sufferers in our everyday lives.
The psychological effects of living with whiplash are also pronounced, and range from anxiety to depression. These effects can make it harder to recover, and they also make it even harder for whiplash sufferers to get out and about, meaning that it will be a relatively rare occurrence to meet and talk to such a sufferer. These symptoms are also invisible, and neck braces are not recommended for use with whiplash – so other than a stiff, slow way of walking and expression of pain there’s no way to identify a whiplash sufferer, as opposed to other neck injuries.
Finally, the worst whiplash cases may accompany other injuries. When a friend has a broken arm and whiplash, it might seem natural to ignore the whiplash they have – after all, it’s not a visible injury, but you can plainly see that their arm is in a sling and plaster cast. The whiplash, though, is a significant hindrance and a very great pain. It is made worse by other neck and spinal injuries, too – recommendations for whiplash are currently to keep the neck mobile, while almost all other neck and spinal injuries require the complete opposite! So a very serious case of whiplash often appears to be merely an addition to a neck injury, when in reality it compounds the injury horribly and adds completely new difficulties and challenges to the patient’s life.
2. The Media Perpetuates Myths
The media is extremely keen to repeat the press releases fed to it by insurance companies (which have a vested interest in reducing whiplash compensation claims), because they make for a juicy story. In fact, they have been designed to make for a juicy story, with statistics carefully massaged and adjusted.
Here’s how the formula works!
Have claims gone up this year?
Then use the percentage year on year increase, and ignore the broader trend. Definitely ignore the decrease in fatal road accidents, and road accidents resulting in severe injuries – that’s a sign that accidents are getting less deadly due to car safety improvements, so of course injuries that can occur at lower levels of force (like whiplash) will be reduced in number.
Have claims gone down or stayed the same this year?
Then use the raw figures! There will always be a large number of whiplash claims as a raw number, at least until there ceases to be a large number of careless drivers causing whiplash injuries. Using the raw figures disguises the fact that whiplash compensation claims have actually decreased. Alternatively, a really clever way to deal with stagnating whiplash compensation claims is to say that they are “near record levels”. If last year was a record level, then even if the numbers fall you can get away with this!
Using both techniques together, you can make it appear that whiplash compensation claims are increasing every year, by feeding the media this story every year and getting them to publish.
In fact, according to government figures obtained in a Freedom of Information Act as of April 2015, whiplash compensation claims recorded by the government’s Compensation Recovery Unit have fallen by 35% over the past four years. You won’t see that in the news any time soon!
3. The Objections Don’t Make Any Sense
So let’s assume that a whiplash injury is a very minor occurrence, one that someone can easily recover from. Why would you then care about the very small amount that a whiplash sufferer received? Our courts have established methods for apportioning an appropriate amount of restitution for injuries, and these have been applied to whiplash to create a stable amount.
Insurers walk a fine line, as they have to try to present whiplash as an extremely trivial and easily-faked injury, but also as an extremely expensive injury for them to cover. The truth is our courts (and our doctors) just don’t work that way. They need to see evidence of an injury’s impact on your life, of the suffering you have experienced, and other factors relevant to compensation.
Prejudice towards whiplash sufferers is significant, and it is much more likely that a deserving victim of whiplash will not receive any compensation than that an undeserving fraudster will receive some small amount of compensation.
4. Everybody Suffers From Whiplash In A Different Way
A woman over the age of sixty is more than 15 times as vulnerable as a young man to whiplash injury. A pre-existing condition such as Multiple Sclerosis can render whiplash literally intolerable, making it much more likely you will experience mental illness associated with whiplash such as depression.
As the old saying goes, if you’ve seen one person suffering from whiplash, you’ve seen one person suffering from whiplash. There are really very few commonalities between patients.
A good analogy is with the flu; while it is perfectly common for a healthy young adult to shrug off the flu quite easily, for an older individual who is already quite unwell it can be life-threatening. Similarly, with whiplash, you may well know a healthy young adult who shrugged off the injury with ease – you may even be one yourself! That does not negate or diminish the suffering of an older driver with arthritis, for example.
However, once again, you are more likely to see these younger, healthier adults, because young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 are most at risk of whiplash injuries.
Whiplash Is Serious
It would be a disservice to the reader to pretend that whiplash is among the most serious injuries one can suffer in a car crash. However, it would be much more unfair to the sufferers of chronic whiplash to characterise it as just a minor injury. Chronic whiplash can blight the lives of people who are already in pain, and seriously marginalise people who are already marginalised.
Whiplash is a serious issue for thousands of individuals in the UK. Rather than take our word for it, we suggest listening to their stories, whether you seek their stories out on the internet or (ideally) talk to them in person about their experiences.
If you have suffered from whiplash, and would like to talk to a sympathetic specialist solicitor, feel free to get in touch with Loyalty Law to have your case handled by a talented expert lawyer.