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David Cameron pledges action to cut car whiplash claims

As he hosts a meeting in Downing Street with insurance, consumer and business groups, the prime minister said he wanted to stop "trivial claims".

Insurers say whiplash claims cost their industry £2 billion a year and add £90 to the average annual bill.

They want to see a minimum speed below which a whiplash claim can be rejected.

Number 10 said Britain had become "the whiplash capital of Europe", with 1,500 claims a day for even the most minor accidents.

The meeting follows a recommendation last month by the Commons Transport Select Committee that the government should bring forward primary legislation to require objective evidence - both of a whiplash injury and of it having a significant effect on the claimant's life - before compensation is paid.

The MPs said there had been a 70% rise in motor insurance injury claims in the past six years - despite a 23% drop in the number of casualties actually caused by road accidents - and whiplash accounted for 70% of the total.

That amounted to roughly 554,000 whiplash claims in 2010-11.

Medical experts

Mr Cameron told representatives at the meeting there was "no silver bullet" to tackle soaring premiums.

"Government has got to help sort out the legal issues, some steps have been taken by insurance companies already in terms of referral fees, [and] there's quite a lot of space for individual action - personal responsibility, not making false claims - so I think there's a whole set of issues and if we work together we can actually deliver," he said.

He was expected to say the government was "determined to tackle this damaging compensation culture which has been pushing up premiums" and stop "trivial claims".

"The insurance industry plays such an important part in all our lives - it is there to help when we are at our most vulnerable and at greatest need. But I want to ensure that we all do what we can to help people through this difficult time."

Insurers are calling for the adoption of measures similar to those already in place in Germany where there is a 10km/h (6.25mph) threshold for whiplash claims.

Drivers in Germany also have to obtain two medical opinions to diagnose the injury.

UK firms are pressing for the creation of a court-appointed pool of impartial experts to assess the veracity of claims.

Ministers are also considering the wider use of in-car monitoring of young drivers - those who face the highest premiums - and a reduction in the fees lawyers can earn for bringing small value personal injury claims.

The government has already pledged to ban referral fees in which personal injury details may be exchanged between insurance companies, lawyers and claims management firms who charge each other for passing them on.

Asked if motorists were lying about being injured, Transport Secretary Justine Greening told the BBC: "I think too often they're encouraged to make a claim for compensation for some kind of health issue.

"I think there are many people who are probably watching this who had a minor, minor accident and might have nudged the person in front of them in a car and the next thing they know that person is somehow claiming for some sort of whiplash injury."

Lying

The Association of British Insurers welcomed the prime minister's intervention, and director general Nick Starling said his industry was "swamped with exaggerated or even fraudulent claims".

 

"There's no medical diagnosis for whiplash as an injury, it's self-reported," he told the BBC.

"If an insurance company wants to challenge a whiplash claim it has to effectively say someone is lying to them and we think that needs to be reformed."

But The Law Society, which represents more than 125,000 solicitors in England and Wales, accused Mr Cameron of failing to engage with it on the issue.

Chief executive Desmond Hudson said: "We wrote to the prime minister over a month ago, but it is disappointing that our offer to work with him and his government in addressing public concerns over whiplash claims has been ignored.

"Government should not be limiting itself to tea and cakes with one partisan set of stakeholders - the insurers."

Shadow transport minister John Woodcock said the government must bring forward concrete proposals to tackle spiralling insurance costs, including supporting Labour's call to limit whiplash claims.

The meeting at Number 10 will be attended by motor insurers including Royal Bank of Scotland, Admiral , Axa, Aviva, and Zurich Financial Services.

In September 2011, four members of a so-called "cash for crash" gang were jailed after defrauding insurance companies out of nearly £2 million.

The men faked more than 120 accidents, making claims for incidents which never occurred.

 

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