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Is Wigan a whiplash hotspot?

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As I was picking up my usual Times on Monday morning from Kevin, my local newsagent, a headline on the front of a local paper grabbed my attention, as was it’s aim -  “Town is Whiplash Hotspot says Report” – 3,000 Compo Claims”.  

Now I usually treat such headline grabbers with extreme caution, as more often than not they are just that – headlines delivered with the sole aim of creating a bit of fuss and media hysteria.

And on this occasion – that approach worked, as I paid an extra 45p and bought the paper, intrigued to find out more about this headline, which I have to say, I did view with some scepticism.

Back in my office and armed with a strong cup of tea, I braced myself to read what turned out to be a rather short and as usual with headlines of this nature, somewhat predictable article. Within the body of the article, it was claimed that a survey (not a report as detailed in the headline), and no details were actually given about the survey itself, had identified Wigan as one of the North West’s whiplash claims hotspots. Being a Wiganer born and bred, I have endured many years of defending the town, and know it has been called many things, not all pleasant, including being a hotspot for Rugby, Mintballs and of course Northern Soul, but whiplash – this has to be a first!

I was intrigued however by the statistics. From where had they been sourced? Who had conducted this survey, could I get a copy of it? Alas no, it transpired that an investment group – Exane BNP Paribas - had obtained these whiplash figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, via a request under the Freedom of Information legislation. Why would some big investment group want to know such things? Who were they working for? Who had actually defined the information given to the DWP as whiplash? - these were all burning questions I had going around in my mind.

As a personal injury lawyer, I know that when we represent an injured person, who may have been injured in all manner of accidents (at work, tripped or slipped, in a car accident, as a pedestrian, cyclist etc, the list goes on) we notify the potential defendant (the other side) and they in turn, are required to notify the DWP of this potential claim. I put a very firm emphasis on potential as not all claims notified to the DWP proceed or are indeed successful. And not all claims notified to the DWP are whiplash claims, indeed I don’t know who has determined that these 3,000 claims in Wigan, lodged with the DWP are indeed whiplash claims, and whether or not this can actually be verified as true and correct.

It’s certainly not a term we use, but equally I don’t know what the other side say to the DWP when they are notifying the DWP of claims. I doubt very much they would use the term whiplash and assume they simply detail the injuries sustained, as we do, which of course could be back and neck injuries, but could just as easily be the loss of a limb, or an eye, or even worse, brain damage, to the DWP who then have to log the details of each claim at their end. And it must be remembered, not every accident logged at the DWP is a road traffic accident.   

By way of explanation, the DWP needs to be aware of all personal injury claims, because if an individual has received benefits (and also hospital treatment) as a result of being injured in an accident, and brings a successful claim, the DWP (which is of course the Government) has an entitlement to have these benefits and treatment costs repaid, by the other side. I assume the Government, in it’s drive to reduce the number of personal injury claims brought in this country, has thought about the knock on effect this will have on their cash flow? If there are less claims, as is their aim, then less injured people will receive the compensation they deserve for the injuries they have suffered, who will continue to receive benefits, which the DWP will have no means of recouping from insurers, as they do now.

Articles like this do invariably make my blood boil. I am of the view that there is a lot more to this survey than meets the eye, and would really like to get my hands on it to really delve into how the figures have been compiled and who has actually put claims into categories, based on injuries so as to deem them a whiplash.

I’m also left with the burning question – I’m the head of one of the largest personal injury practices in the region, with two offices in Wigan, and one in Leigh, Bolton, St Helens and Manchester – does that make me Madam Whiplash? Just call me Cynthia.

By personal injury solicitor and Stephensons' Partner, Kate Sweeney