You could be forgiven for thinking that whiplash is all in the mind. Anyone reading the media at present would be convinced that it is a made up disease constructed purely to get compensation. That anyone claiming whiplash is a fraudster. That we are all being conned, and that we are all paying for it through our motor premiums.
However, the reality is somewhat different. Any of you who have suffered whiplash will know that it is very, very painful. That pain lingers, and it impacts on your ability to enjoy your daily life. How long you suffer, and how badly you suffer, will depend on the severity of the accident, and how your body copes.
Two thirds of people will recover fully in three months, and will not have an ongoing problem. Just under a third of people will still suffer symptoms after three months, and are likely to have a chronic condition that recurs throughout their life – recurring neck pain that may be a nuisance, and may occasionally be intrusive on their daily life. For two per cent it is disabling.
Women suffer more than men, and the severity of whiplash increases with age. Headrests are effective in rear end shunts at reducing the severity of whiplash. However, 60 per cent of accidents involve side and front end crashes, when the headrest does not necessarily provide protection.
The prevalence of whiplash has increased as cars have become safer. When I was young, in the era before seatbelt wearing became compulsory, people used to fly through windscreens regularly. There are now far fewer fatal crashes (which is a good thing), but as a consequence of tougher cars there is an increased likelihood of neck strain and other minor injuries.
Whiplash is hard to treat - neck collars aren't effective in most cases. Professor Kim Burton offers advice to sufferers of whiplash in ‘The Whiplash Book’. The advice given is to talk to a doctor, who can suggest pain relief such as ibuprofen, and reassure the patient (in 98 per cent of cases)that they are not seriously injured. Victims are recommended to return to normal activity as soon as possible – normally they should be able to return to work within days or at most a couple of weeks.
Doctors can advise specifically if any activities at work should be avoided if victims are worried. Neck exercises are helpful – stretching the neck in all directions, stopping at the point of pain, and trying to move a little further each time. Sufferers can do a lot to help themselves to a full recovery. It encourages people to cope with their pain, recognising that mobility is helpful and that victims should not be afraid to keep moving. The pain will get better over time. A positive mindset is crucial, as is carrying on life as normally as possible. If victims can help themselves to be pain free by the three month point, it generally means they will be pain free forever.
There is an argument that says because in most cases you don't suffer permanent harm, and because it can't be treated, sufferers shouldn't be compensated. This cannot be right. If you have been injured through the negligence of another, and your life is affected, you deserve to be compensated.
We would never as lawyers look to encourage fraudulent claims, and insurers will never pay a claim they believe to be fraudulent. You will read in the paper that 25 per cent of whiplashes may be false, according to the ABI. Treat this with a pinch of salt. Such statements are designed to stigmatise whiplash, to put you off making a claim. If you have a valid claim, and you have been genuinely injured, you deserve to be compensated. The guilty party in the accident was not you.