Whiplash reform and its impact on cyclists

Westminster Magistrates' Court

The UK government has been working toward widespread reform of personal injury compensation limits for several years. The focus has been on reducing the number of frivolous claims made by parties involved in road traffic accidents, specifically those claiming for whiplash injuries. While soft tissue injuries like whiplash can be difficult to prove as well as costly for insurers when they are fraudulent, the most recent reform measures have been met with loud concerns. Those speaking up about changes to compensation limits and processes for claiming are rightfully alarmed at the inclusion of cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

The whiplash reform measures announced in 2017 have now been delayed until 2020, nearly two years past the original implementation timeline of October 2018. The Ministry of Justice recently confirmed the delay, citing a need for extensive testing on a new system of small claims due to road accidents. While the delay offers some solace to cyclists who would be negatively impacted because of the reform, concerns still exist relating to vulnerable road users and their ability to receive adequate compensation for injuries after an accident.

What’s included in the reform

The whiplash reform proposal, included as part of the Civil Liability Bill in June of 2017, includes several notable changes to claims for personal injury among road users. The most pressing is the increase in the small claims limit for road traffic accidents that result in personal injury claims, raising the amount from £1,000 up to £5,000. With this increased limit, road users including cyclists will be forced to use the small claims court system. The process of small claims eliminates the ability for victims of road accidents to recoup the cost of legal fees, which can significantly reduce the amount of compensation they receive.

One of the less obvious changes involves the calculation of a claim as it relates to meeting the minimum £5,000 requirement. Victims of road traffic accidents may not be allowed to include property damage, such as their road bike, pain and suffering, or loss of earnings in the mix. This means that only the costs related to the injury can be included when determining the total value of the personal injury claim. The increased threshold has the potential to push an estimated 70% of cyclists out of the system and force them to utilise small claims processes after an accident.

Cyclist impact

According to a legal team who deal with cycle claims, the change proposed by government is not taking into account the reality of cyclists compensation claims. It is rare for a cyclist to claim for whiplash or other soft tissue injuries; instead, they are left with broken collarbones, head trauma, or broken wrists or ankles. They also often experience damage to their bike, long rehabilitation stints, and loss of earnings because of accidents with other road users. Including cyclists, and other vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, creates an unfair system that penalises cyclists as opposed to lending a necessary hand.

However, the government insists that the whiplash reform is needed as an essential part of reducing unfounded and costly claims against insurers and other road users. The unfortunate truth is that covering their own legal costs will drastically reduce any compensation vulnerable road users like cyclists receive after experiencing an accident. The delay in the proposed reform gives advocates more time to request these road users be exempt from the claims limits, but only time will tell if that suggestion is taken to heart.

The guise of reduced costs

Many government leaders and lobbyists for insurance companies argue that the reason the whiplash reform is necessary directly correlates to cost. As insurance companies settle personal injury claims after road traffic accidents, the added cost of doing so is passed down to drivers. The higher the number of claims, the greater the expense to individual drivers. Whiplash reform is touted to reduce additional insurance costs for drivers by ultimately decreasing the number of whiplash cases settled by insurers. A push for the reform is backed by this one-sided truth; in all reality, only motorists would benefit from the potential decrease in insurance premiums, should it actually come to fruition.

Vulnerable road users including cyclists do not have a requirement to carry insurance, so there is no future benefit of lower cost for them. Similarly, cyclists rarely experience whiplash as a result of a road traffic accident, so their injuries are not in-line with the government’s efforts to reduce whiplash fraud. Because of these obvious facts, the fight for vulnerable road users to be exempt from the updated whiplash reform will continue until the proposal becomes law in 2020.

Image: Westminster Magistrates’ Court cc by Ministry of Justice UK on Flickr