How long does a whiplash injury claim take?
Although in November 2015 Chancellor George Osborne stated his intention to introduce measures to end the right to cash compensation for minor whiplash injuries - instead offering claimants physiotherapy and treatment for their injuries - the measures do not affect anyone who has sustained serious injuries through an accident.
Furthermore, road traffic accidents (RTA) are not the only cause of whiplash; a person slipping and falling, either in a public place or in the workplace, may also sustain a whiplash injury.
When can a whiplash claim be made?
Providing the claimant was not to blame for his accident and there is an individual or organisation to claim from, then a claim should be brought within 3 years of the incident that caused the whiplash.
If the incident occurred before the claimant's 18th birthday then he has 3 years from his 18th birthday in which to bring a claim.
Claims for injuries that lasted less than 2 months are usually not accepted.
How long does the claims process take?
The type of incident and complexity of the claim has an impact on the length of time it may take to be resolved.
Straightforward RTA cases, where liability is admitted and the claim value not contested may be settled within 4-7 months of making the claim.
More complex RTA cases which require investigations about liability, or where the injuries need further treatment and advice before their extent can be fully assessed are likely to take up to a year to settle.
Claims for whiplash injuries caused by a slip or fall usually require liability against an organisation to be established. This might be an employer or a local council. Once liability has been admitted the settlement time should be around 6 months - providing the pain and suffering is straightforward to evaluate.
How does the process work?
- Establishing liability
Information regarding the circumstances of the accident must be gathered in order for a claim to be assessed and processed.
In the case of a RTA, which occurred after 30 April 2010, the claim is submitted to the defendant's insurance company, which has 3 weeks to confirm if liability is admitted.
In the meantime a claimant will need to visit a medical expert for an independent assessment of his injuries; usually within 5 weeks of the accident.
Once the medical report is completed, negotiation of the claim can commence - providing liability has been admitted.
Exception: If liability is denied, the defendant's insurance company has 12 weeks to confirm that liability is to be contested, and must provide evidence to confirm its reasons.
- Valuing the claim
The claim can be valued using the medical report. It will be also necessary to quantify any financial losses or expenses incurred as a result of the injury.
The total claim is then submitted to the defendant's insurance company with an offer to settle. The insurers have 3 weeks in which to respond.
If they propose a counter offer, they will be granted a further 4 weeks to settle the claim.
Providing the valuation is agreed by the claimant within that 7 week period, the defendant's insurer has 2 weeks in which to pay the agreed compensation.
Exception: If the claimant sustains more serious injury or has a more complex claim to pursue, the valuation may take longer.
- Litigation required
If liability or the claim value cannot be agreed, or the insurers do not reply within the 7 week period then it may be necessary to issue court proceedings against the defendant.
The litigation process can take up to 9 months to reach a final hearing but many cases settle without having to attend court.
Where an out of court settlement cannot be achieved, the date of settlement will depend on the court hearing date, which can be between 1 and 4 months.
In the majority of cases the claimant is not required to attend court.
What about whiplash caused by trips and falls?
Because it is sometimes necessary for a claim to be investigated by a third party the process may differ slightly.
There may be more than one party involved in this process, therefore providing a decision on who is liable for the accident may take longer. Generally the decision should be provided within a 3 month timescale.
Once that has been established that the defendant is liable, the claimant will need to obtain medical evidence in respect of his injuries and the claim will continue as detailed above.
If the insurance company does not provide a decision on liability within 3 months then it may be necessary to proceed with litigation.