Wednesday 22 November 2017

People flying in to 'Whiplash Island' to take advantage of our generous claims system

Too many judges are still awarding absurdly high levels of awards in the civil courts for trivial injuries. (Stock picture)
Too many judges are still awarding absurdly high levels of awards in the civil courts for trivial injuries. (Stock picture)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Want to make a quick buck? Well, providing you do not worry too much about trifling matters like honesty and moral codes, then making up a personal injuries claim can be a sure-fire way to boost your income.

There is no cost for making the claim, and there is unlikely to be any consequence if you are found to be making a fraudulent claim, or exaggerating the symptoms of a genuine accident.

Sure, people are even flying in from abroad to stage accidents here, such is the generosity of our system.

If you get an award, it will be a multiple of the amount paid in other European counties for similar claims.

It will be tax-free, and you will also have your legal costs covered if you win, and get any medical costs and work-related expenses covered in addition to the tax-free award.

And taking the case will cost you nothing. The no-foul, no-fee system means your legal costs will be covered upfront by your ambulance-chaser lawyer, who will then get his or her costs from the losing side.

Read More: Car insurance firms target scammers in cash-for-crash crackdown

Some even make a living out of it.

Yes, welcome to 'Whiplash Island', where cash-for-crash accidents are two a penny.

And there is no cost and no consequences if you are found out.

All of this has a knock-on impact on motor insurance premiums.

They have now risen by 60pc since 2010, according to official statistics. A lot of that is down to bad decisions by insurance companies, but dodgy claims also play a large part.

Although some judges are now taking a tough line in throwing out cases where they suspect they are being lied too, there are still a number of questionable awards being granted by the courts.

Too many judges are still awarding absurdly high levels of awards in the civil courts for trivial injuries.

In many of these cases there may not be any fraud, but it is not always obvious that anyone other than the claimant was responsible for the injuries.

If more of these cases were thrown out, or reduced compensation was paid, and a zero-tolerance approach adopted by the judiciary to false and exaggerated claims, there would be a huge fall in the number of cases brought. This, in turn, is likely to bring premiums down.

Lawyers may dispute the facts, but it is undeniable that there has been a rise in the amounts paid out by the courts. Courts Service statistics show a rise of 34pc in the average personal injury award paid out in the circuit courts in the last two years.

The average award paid out in the circuit courts was almost €16,500 in 2015, the latest year for which we have figures.

High court awards are up too, but these are distorted by medical negligence cases, so it is safer to use circuit court figures as a measure.

Courts set the benchmark for award levels. The ideal situation for chancers and their ambulance-chasing solicitors is to get the case into the courts.

All cases have to go though the Injuries Board first. But it does not pay legal costs, and it is often easier to get a big award in the courts.

Failing to co-operate with the Injuries Board by, for example, not turning up for a medical test, is one of the chief means of extracting the case from the board into the lottoland that is the courts.

Financial Services Minister Eoghan Murphy has a recommendation in his report of the insurance costs working group to review Injuries Board legislation to addresses non-co-operation such as non-attendance at medicals and refusal to provide details of special damages.

The good news is that, prompted by a public outcry, insurers are at last clamping down hard on false and exaggerated claims.

An exclusive survey conducted by the Irish Independent shows they are now probing almost 6,000 suspicious motor injury claims. Dozens of fraud rings have been uncovered by the seven insurers.

They have scaled up their investigations of suspect claims and are challenging more of them in the courts.

Insurers have now scaled up investigation units, usually headed up by retired senior gardaí. It is not before time the insurance industry has started to seriously tackle the scourge of suspect claims that are endemic due to our compo culture.

For too long insurers took the view that it made more sense to pay out, even when they had suspicions. They argued it was too costly to fight cases in the courts where awards can be huge, and the legal cost half again of the level of the award.

At last they have decided to take on the chancers.

All honest drivers will benefit from insurers finally putting the squeeze on the fraudsters.

Irish Independent

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