Whiplash and the insurance industry
Sir, – The last couple of years have seen an intensified assault in the media on compensation paid in cases of whiplash. This has resulted from a one-sided debate driven by representatives of the insurance industry, without any balancing view from whiplash victims. The trust of their arguments is that whiplash does not cause serious injury, only soft-tissue impacts that are mere temporary inconveniences. Also that claims are often exaggerated, or even fraudulent, and that the real victims are “honest” motorists whose premiums are being driven up by such spurious claims.
The Personal Injuries Commission (PIC), chaired by Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, has produced a report on whiplash averring that it recognises the overlap between awards, and extravagant and fraudulent claims. Moreover, it commissioned an independent verification process (using data supplied by Insurance Ireland) that shows Irish payouts were a “stark multiple” of 4.4 times greater than those in England and Wales. It concludes that this confirms publicly expressed concerns about the level of awards and the effect they may be having on motorists requiring insurance cover.
This report excited extensive media commentary. The Irish Times on November 5th gave it front-page prominence.
All the discussion and comment revolved around fraud, rising insurance premiums and the notorious 4.4 UK ratio. There wasn’t a word of compassion for the victims of careless driving.
However, benchmarking Ireland against the UK is a false comparison. I lived in England for nearly two decades, and while it is true that that country is famously parsimonious with benefits and claims of all kind, there is no comparison between it and Ireland when it comes to the cost of healthcare.
I am a chronic pain sufferer. Five years ago, I was the victim of careless driving. That was my last day without pain.
I have also experienced some alternative comparisons. I have been paying circa €1,800 annually for prescription drugs. That is €9,000 so far and I am likely to need them for life. In England the “pre-paid drugs certificate” costs £104 annually.
So, the cost in England is 17 times less expensive than it is in Ireland. In Scotland and Wales, the same drugs are free.
When I visit my Irish doctor it costs €50; the same visit, in all parts of the UK, is free. For other treatments the relative waiting times are so long in Ireland that it necessitates paying privately, which is far more expensive than the NHS. These and other costs were not included in the PIC’s calculations whose sole metric was its “stark multiples”.
Pain is invisible, endured in silence and elicits little sympathy. But some days I wish I could hack my back off. Sleepless nights, exhaustion and consequent lack of concentration are among its debilitating effects. Despite the pain, I struggle to work every day; it is a distraction, and I need the wages. I have GP fees, consultant fees, fees for reports, physiotherapy fees, and even with the drugs payment scheme the cost of medication is punitive. This has been exacerbated by the loss of pain patches on prescription. When loss of earnings for a prolonged period of sick leave is added in, the current accumulated costs are hitting €20,000 and that is only a fraction of the long-term costs. And of course the legal costs.
The insurance companies seem to have planted in the public consciousness the idea that they feel obliged pay out on dubious claims because of the cost of litigation. They now use this argument as leverage to reduce all awards. The implication being that they would continue to pay out on dodgy claims but if the overall awards were reduced, they would save money which, it is further implied, would reduce premiums. If so, this is an exceptionally discreditable trade-off. If there are fraudsters, then they should be targeted and exposed, not rewarded. Insurance companies are particularly well resourced to achieve this. However, they appear to be using the existence of fraudsters to penalise the genuine victims of careless driving. – Yours, etc,