The Transport Committee released its fourth report today into the cost of motor insurance: whiplash. Here, head of research at GBB and Chartered Engineer, Philip Hoyes discusses some of the issues arising out of the report.
A Bachelor of Automobile Engineering and published author in LVI occupant kinematics, Philip has experience in the investigation, analysis and reconstruction of vehicle incidents. A qualified Collision Investigator, he regularly examines motor vehicles with respect to consistency of alleged accident damage, occupant kinematics and component failure.
The fourth report of The Transport Select Committee has been relatively well received and it has been interesting today to see the reaction from The ABI, MASS, FOIL and many other interested onlookers.
Medical evidence has been awarded a typically high priority compared with research-based, objective engineering evidence.
The collision is the causal event that may lead to an injury – the effect. In determining the likelihood of soft tissue injury, too much emphasis is placed on medical evidence which deals only with the effect and not with the cause, i.e. the collision.
Medical reports typically base their conclusions on an understanding of the impact mechanics as described to them by the Claimants but the fact is that in most cases the impact mechanics and specifics of the circumstances are in dispute.
Medical opinion might be reserved until expert opinion is sought clarifying the most likely version of events (which includes classifying the collision type – collinear or glancing for example) and clarifying the likely impact severity based on damage.
When determining the validity of a whiplash claim, scientific, research-based engineering evidence is at least as important than the evidence provided by a medical expert.
Section: Low-Velocity Impacts Para. 16
Andrew Miller, Director of Research at Thatcham, drew attention to experience in Germany in the 1990s where claims for whiplash only progressed to medical assessment if the accident happened at a speed of at least 10 km/ph (6.25 mph). He argued that if the Government wished to adopt a similar approach it would be possible to derive from biomechanical evidence a speed of impact below which injury was very unlikely.
This quote highlights the necessity of engineering guidance.
The German approach involved speed changes of 10km/h.
Speed changes are not the same thing as impact speeds, but the two are often confused.
Speed changes are affected by factors such as collision speed, vehicle mass and impact dynamics: all of which require accurate, research-based scientific analysis.
This is precisely the analysis GBB researches and conducts on a regular basis.
Section: Low-Velocity Impacts Para. 17
Andrew Ritchie QC said “there are many medical papers to show that four to five miles an hour is about the threshold” for whiplash injury to occur but argued that women and older people are more likely than men and younger people to suffer injury during low-speed impacts. In his view, there was a danger that “if you introduce a threshold, what you are really doing is excluding the vulnerable from their right to claim.
Reasonable thresholds must exist and whilst the issue of actual injury is beyond the remit of the engineer, GBB takes an approach focussed upon the speed change of the vehicle and the acceleration of its occupants. That is to study the mechanism which might lead to injury and develop thresholds based upon acceleration.
This vital piece of evidence should be available to anyone wishing to validate a whiplash-type injury.
Section: Conclusions Para. 63
Although it may make economic sense for an individual insurance firm to settle a claim without medical evidence or to pay out even if fraud or exaggeration is suspected, the industry as a whole is damaged, and motorists pick up the bill in the form of higher premiums. Insurers must immediately put their house in order and end practices which encourage fraud and exaggeration. If not, the Government should take steps to protect motorists.
I sympathise with insurers for the external pressure placed upon them. On one hand reforms in the MOJ guidelines limit the time they have to respond to a claim whilst on the other the Government’s report calls for insurers to investigate wherever fraud or exaggeration is suspected.
Without a reliable method for testing the validity of a claim, insurers can be left between the devil and the deep blue sea.
A viable solution is the File Appraisal Scheme operated by GBB.
For a fixed, low cost GBB can provide expert, research-based opinion on the quality of the available evidence, plus a preliminary guidance on vehicle and occupant kinematics which allows the client to make informed decisions without compromising the legislative deadlines put upon them.
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