Cyclists Will Suffer Under ‘Whiplash’ ReformsJanuary 4, 2017
Injured cyclists will be among the unintended victims of government plans aimed at stamping out fraudulent whiplash claims, a personal injury lawyer is warning.
Ministers are currently considering proposals to make compensation no longer payable for “soft tissue” injuries suffered in road accidents, which insurers say are easy to fake.
In addition, they want to hike the threshold at which cases must go through the small claims track – which does not include payments for the claimant’s legal fees – from £1,000 to £5,000 or more.
But James Pritchard, of Macks Solicitors, believes the strategy is seriously flawed.
“Just because some people might behave fraudulently does not, in my view, justify denying compensation to genuine accident victims,” said cyclist James, who has handled scores of cycling claims.
“I’m concerned about ending compensation for soft tissue injuries but it’s the increase in the small claims limit that’s being ushered in behind the smokescreen of a whiplash crackdown that alarms me most.
“Cyclists will be particularly badly affected if this bad idea becomes law. The small claims limit is not calculated on the full value of a claim, but only on the injury element. That means that if your £5,000 carbon fibre bike is written off but your injuries are relatively minor, you may have to pay much more out of your own pocket to have a solicitor act for you.
“I recently dealt with a cyclist who was riding past a parked car in Redcar when the driver opened a door on him. He’s far from being the kind of whiplash fraudster the government says it’s clamping down on.
“We have video footage showing what happened and liability is admitted. His injuries are not minor – he’s had two months off work. But he fully recovered from a broken wrist and torn ankle ligaments within six months, so the value of the compensation for those injuries is less than £5,000.
“And yet because both the loss of earnings element and damage to his bike are set aside when assessing whether or not it’s a small claim, this time next year someone in similar circumstances would potentially be forced to choose between footing their own legal bill or handling the case on their own.
“By dressing this up as an attack on whiplash claims the government can slip it into law and people will accept it, believing they will save on their car insurance. But at the same time the government have increased insurance premium tax and I predict that, as usual, very few people’s insurance will actually come down.”
James says the vast majority of cyclists injured in accidents would no longer receive anything towards their legal costs in their compensation settlement if the proposals go through.
While Macks will continue to offer their services to injured cyclists, he fears that some will either accept the first lowball offer the insurance company makes or simply give up and abandon the claims process altogether.
“If you crash while riding a bike but you make a recovery within a year, you’re going to have to pay for any legal advice you get,” he said.
“The government are saying such claims are straightforward and you don’t need legal help. But although some people may be able to manage by themselves, many just won’t bother or will deal with the insurance company directly.
“Can you trust them to look after your interests? Are they going to get a medical report? Will they send you to a genuinely independent expert? And when you do get an offer, how will you know if it’s a fair one?
“I’m seriously concerned that these proposals will hit the cyclist community particularly hard. What’s more, they send out completely the wrong message. We should be encouraging people to get on their bikes and doing everything we can to protect them and ensure their safety on our roads.
“Instead we’re telling them that because other people might have abused the system, their injuries don’t matter anymore.”
The consultation period for people to give their views ends on Friday January 6. Cycling organisations including Cycling UK and British Cycling say that doesn’t allow adequate time for a sensible discussion of the issues.