If you have suffered from whiplash following an accident which was not your fault, you may be able to claim compensation.
Whiplash injuries can cause pain, discomfort and can leave you out of pocket through medical expenses and time off work. Making a claim can help to compensate you for the suffering and costs resulting from your injury.
If you are considering making a claim, you may not be aware the current system for whiplash claims is under review. The Government wants to limit the amount of compensation that can be awarded for whiplash injuries, among other changes that will make it harder to make a claim for whiplash injuries.
The reforms could take effect as soon as April 2020. For victims of whiplash injuries, this is a strong reason to bring a claim as early as possible to avoid being affected by any changes in the law.
What are whiplash injuries?
‘Whiplash’ describes a soft tissue neck injury caused by the sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or to the side. The most common cause of whiplash is road traffic accidents but these types of injuries can result from anything that makes the ligaments and tendons in the neck suddenly become stretched or damaged – for example as slips and trips.
A variety of symptoms are associated with whiplash and can typically include:
- Tenderness, pain or stiffness in the neck or difficulty moving head
- Pain in the shoulders and arms
- Pins and needles in your arms
- Muscle spasms
- Memory loss
- Poor concentration, tiredness or irritability
Whiplash symptoms can take between 6 to 12 hours to develop, or sometimes longer, as it can be experienced differently by different people.
Do I have a whiplash claim?
1. Check the time limit
The first question to ask is whether you are still within the time limit to make the claim. You have 3 years from the date of the accident to bring a claim for whiplash injury. After this date, you are barred from proceeding.
Limited exceptions may apply.
Victims lacking mental capacity are exempt from the time limit and can proceed with a claim at any time.
If the victim is under 18, a parent or guardian may make a claim on their behalf but should they wait until they turn 18 to proceed with a claim, they will have 3 years from the date of their 18th birthday to bring the claim.
Where the victim’s injuries do not present for some time after the accident, the time limit may be deemed to have started on the ‘date of knowledge’ of their injuries, rather than the date of the accident. This scenario tends not however to apply to whiplash claims given such injuries generally present within days.
Take legal advice on your circumstances if you believe any of these are applicable.
2. Find an expert
Making a claim requires knowledge of strict legal protocols, meeting deadlines and liaising with third parties such as the defendant solicitors and their insurers, expert witnesses and the court. A solicitor will take this hassle away from you.
Using an experienced personal injury solicitor can help to make the claims process easier and less stressful for you, and can improve your prospects of receiving a faster and better settlement.
3. Check you have a claim
Your solicitor will first assess the merits of your claim and advise whether you have a valid and strong enough case with which to proceed.
They will take full details from you, about the circumstances of the accident, the other party (or parties) involved, your injuries and medical issues and expenses incurred following the accident.
They can also assist if you require assistance with rehabilitation.
4. Making the claim
To proceed with a claim, your solicitor will need to gauge the value of your potential compensation, as this will determine the legal process to be followed.
Claims valued between £1,000 and £25,000 are deemed ‘low value’ and will be managed through the claims portal.
Cases above £25,000, involving more complex issues and serious injuries or losses, are dealt with outside the low value process.
Your solicitor will send a Claim Notification Form (CNF) to the defendant, which must be acknowledged and responded to within set timeframes.
Critical to your claim will be evidence that supports the facts of your case. There are a number of areas to consider on the advice of your solicitor.
At the scene of the accident, you will need to have taken details of the other parties involved, their contact and insurance details and their registration number for example. Ideally, you would also have taken photographs and contact details of any witnesses.
If the accident was reported to the police – for example, if the accident was serious, if the other party refused to provide their details or if it was a hit and run – you will need to have the police incident number.
While symptoms and injures can take up to 7-10 days to present, seeking medical advice as soon as possible after an accident will help to ensure you receive the relevant treatment and will act as a record of the injuries you sustained.
If possible, keep a contemporaneous record of your symptoms and medical complaints following the accident and record any days taken off work due to your injuries.
Also remember to keep receipts for medical expenses relating to the injuries. Your solicitor will add this detail to any other financial losses you may have incurred and seek to claim back.
A key part of your case will be medical evidence. Your solicitor will arrange for you to see a medical expert who will examine you and ask you questions about your symptoms and injuries. They will submit a report which will help to determine the value of your claim. The report may also make recommendations for rehabilitation support.
With your medical report and itemised losses, your solicitor will discuss settlement options with you and how much you are prepared to accept to settle, ahead of proceeding to negotiate with the defendant where liability has been accepted.
It is rare for whiplash claims to go to court, but if you are not happy with the defendant’s final offer you may pursue the claim in court to obtain a higher amount.
How much compensation can I claim?
Whiplash compensation is intended to return you to the position you were in before the injury.
The amount you will be entitled to is dependent on a number of factors, including the severity of the injuries. Less severe whiplash injuries which cause mild discomfort such as headaches and do not last longer than a few weeks can settle in the region of £1000 to £3000, whereas severe whiplash causing spinal damage and other ongoing medical issues can extend to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Why seek legal advice?
If you have been involved in an incident which has left you with whiplash injury and it was not your fault, you may be able to make a claim against the party responsible for causing the accident.
Take legal advice early to understand the merits of your case and ensure you receive the maximum compensation for your injuries.