‘Myth or fact?’ asks a report produced by APIL entitled ‘The Whiplash Report 2012’. The report is on APIL’s website and aims to debunk the myths being peddled in the debate surrounding claims for whiplash injuries. APIL has come to slay the dragon of ‘hyperbole’ and ‘hysteria’ surrounding the subject of whiplash. Our brave knight has taken on public perception of lawyers and whiplash claims with its sword of statistics.
Our myth busters first tell us that there is no whiplash ‘epidemic’: based on a survey of 4,000 people we are told that only 1 in 100 suffered a whiplash injury in the last 12 months and, according to CRU statistics, the number of whiplash claims decreased from 571,111 in 2010/11 to 547,405 in 2011/12.
Another myth is that ‘whiplash is a cash bonanza’. We are told that almost 40 per cent of respondents to the survey had not claimed compensation after suffering a whiplash injury. As I read the report I am left wondering whether they hadn’t claimed because they were in the wrong car… But there is no time for doubting as the next statistics follow on fast: almost 75% of those people who suffered a whiplash injury and whose symptoms lasted for more than a year, brought a claim and just over half of those whose symptoms lasted a couple of weeks brought a claim. Of those surveyed 33% said they reported their symptoms accurately and 47% said that they made their symptoms seem better than they were to the person making the diagnosis. There is no indication what the remaining 20% said. One can only assume from the options that they said they exaggerated their symptoms.
APIL tells us the conclusion we should draw: it is human nature to put up with low level pain, or to put a brave face on it. Now when I look at children and some adults too, that is not what I observe. Most children seem to act in their own self-interests: they may play down symptoms but more often than not they may make something of them for attention or advantage. The pamphlet aspires to rational debate but I fear with such arguments it damages its own cause.
What makes matters worse is that if 4,000 people were surveyed and only one in a hundred suffered from whiplash then these statistics about whiplash injury sufferers are based on the responses of 40 people – too small a number of people to draw any useful conclusions.
The next myth the pamphlet seeks to tackle is that ‘whiplash is impossible to diagnose’. We are told that in the APIL survey 90 per cent of those injured had their whiplash diagnosed by a medical professional. Here the pamphlet seems to be falling into the same error that it alleges its opponents are guilty of: unfairly representing an argument and then knocking it down with simplistic reasoning. Surely the allegation is not that it is impossible to diagnose whiplash but that any diagnosis is for the most part based on subjective reporting of the patient. That is no one’s fault but needs to be handled carefully. The medic cannot do a blood test or a scan and say objectively that a patient has suffered whiplash. In most cases he or she can only take a history, record the patient’s ability to move, establish the mechanism of the accident and then conclude that his or her observations are consistent with such a diagnosis.
The pamphlet might be on much more solid ground when it deals with the allegation that whiplash claims are driven by lawyers. Of those surveyed only 21 per cent were encouraged to pursue a claim by a lawyer. The other were encouraged by insurers (28%), friends (18%), claims management company (10%), trade union etc (6%), CAB (7%) and 32% said they were not encouraged but made a decision themselves. If you add up all those percentages you get 122%; there is probably a good explanation for this, but it is not given.
The pamphlet goes on to deal with the allegation that ‘Britons have the weakest necks in Europe’ and the problem of fraudulent claims and the issue of trust in professionals generally. At the end of 19 pages, plenty of pictures and little text one is left feeling that this is shallow contribution which does little to raise the level of the debate it begins by attacking or to inspire trust in the profession.