Re: Winter 2013/14 - Page 82

Whiplash and the compensation culture “Whiplash injuries can have debilitating consequences for those who suffer them. However, some of the increase in whiplash claims will have been due to fraud or exaggeration.” Transport Select Committee, the Chair Louise Ellman MP What is whiplash? Whiplash is a soft tissue injury that occurs because the body is suddenly and sharply jerked in a particular direction. The muscles and ligaments around the spine are stretched, torn and bleed and this results in neck pain and spasms. Pain from a whiplash injury tends to arise some six to 12 hours after the event and can be anything from a moderate irritation to severely debilitating. This pain can be accompanied by headache, balance problems, vertigo, dizziness, eye problems, tinnitus, poor concentration, sensitivity to light and fatigue. Why are we so concerned about claims for whiplash? Whiplash trauma can result in injuries that are difficult to diagnose. A doctor may examine a patient’s neck for signs of spasm or tenderness, but tests and scans generally aren’t used. Doctors will generally diagnose whiplash from the patient’s description of the symptoms that they are suffering. 80 An x-ray may be taken if there is some concern that the patient’s back is broken, but x-rays cannot typically reveal minor injuries. In some cases an MRI scan may be used to detect more severe trauma, but whiplash is a complex injury and this complexity is compounded by the paradox that one patient may have suffered a major injury but may experience only minor symptoms, where another patient endured only minor trauma but is  subject to very severe, disabling symptoms. So then, in a claim for personal injury, a lot of emphasis is placed on the patient’s account of the pain they are suffering and the fairness of any amount claimed by that patient is reliant on that person telling the truth. Essentially, once an allegation of whiplash has been made, it is very difficult for a defendant to show that a claimant has exaggerated his symptoms. A GP may be convinced that a patient is lying about the seriousness of his symptoms and may find absolutely nothing wrong with him/her (apart from a severe case of bad acting brought on by googling the symptoms of whiplash) – but in their role as the patient’s advocate they are obligated to write in their medical notes that the patient came in complaining of whiplash. GPs are constantly concerned that they are putting themselves at risk of a com