When a Ford Fiesta collided with a double-decker party bus packed with revellers on a roundabout in Crewe it could have been a very nasty accident. Luckily the Fiesta was travelling at less than 10mph and there was just a small split in the car’s bumper and a £70 bill to fix the bus.
Then came the real impact – a £250,000 insurance claim when every one of the 46 passengers said they had suffered a whiplash injury.
The details of the huge insurance claim were released on Thursday by insurance group Aviva, which had insured the driver of the Fiesta.
The accident happened as the Fiesta’s owner tried to overtake the doubledecker bus at low speed and was caught out as the bus turned onto the roundabout. Aviva accepted split liability for the accident with the insurer of the party bus. The car driver, described the impact as minimal.
Most of the passengers on board were said to have been unaware of the collision at the time and none received medical attention before going on to spend the evening at a nightclub. But shortly afterwards each of them submitted a claim for whiplash. The injury, which can take hours to be felt and causes neck pain and headaches, happens when the head is suddenly thrown forwards, backwards or sideways.
The UK has become known as the whiplash capital of Europe due to the high level of claims made by those involved in accidents. While in France just 3% of motor injury claims are for whiplash, in the UK the figure is 80%. Some insurers automatically pay out on all whiplash claims up to £3,000 because it is is cheaper to pay up than fight a case.
Aviva, which has been an outspoken critic of the UK’s laws on whiplash payouts, decided to fight the party bus claim, saying it believed the injuries were inconsistent with the damage caused to the vehicles.
But after the insurer rejected the claims, 23 of the partygoers then hired lawyers to fight their case and were able to supply medical evidence to lawyers in support of their claim. Aviva, however, didn’t give up, and eventually all the claimants dropped their claims before they went to court.
Tom Gardiner, the head of fraud at Aviva, said: “This claim highlights the outrageous scale of whiplash fraud in the UK being driven by the current system, and which frankly has become a national disgrace.
“We believe our customers are fed up paying for spurious and fraudulent injury claims through their premiums and they expect us to defend these claims on their behalf.”
The incident happened in September 2012, but those who had their claims rejected had three years to seek legal representation and appeal, so Aviva has only now been able to close the case – and make it public.
The insurance company said that for every £1 it pays out in compensation for whiplash it spends another 80p to cover lawyers’ fees. It has been lobbying the government to make claims more difficult,and wants the period people have to make a claim cut to 12 months from the date of an accident.
The insurer uncovered the claim as part of an operation in the north-west focusing on staged accidents involving buses and multiple claimants. It described the claims as “opportunistic”, but said its fraud unit is dealing with more than 4,000 suspect whiplash claims linked to organised “cash for crash” claims - where people submit false claims for damage and personal injury related to staged car accidents.
In November’s autumn statement the chancellor, George Osborne, announced a crackdown on claims, which could lead to the end of cash compensation and reduce drivers’ premiums by £50 a year.
The Association of British Insurers sid that whiplash policies cost £2bn a year – an average of £90 for each motor insurance policy. A spokeswoman said: “When people suffer genuine personal injury they deserve help which insurers are committed to providing.
“However, frivolous and exaggerated personal injury claims, especially for whiplash, create unnecessary costs which impact premium paying customers.”
Matt Oliver, car insurance spokesperson at the comparison website Gocompare.com, said some of those making false claims view it as “a victimless crime, that only affects the insurance company”, but all motorists were paying for it.
“A large part of the problem is due to some rogue claims management companies who cold call drivers following an accident to encourage them to make inflated injury claims under the promise of receiving a large pay out,” he said.
“Tougher rules are needed to prevent these companies from turning minor accidents into major personal injury claims in the pursuit of profit.”
Aviva has previously revealed details of other cases where it rejected claims, including the case of a semi-professional footballer who tweeted about playing a match 24 hours after an accident in which he said he had been injured.
Recently, law firm Thompsons Solicitors, which specialises in personal injury claims, said insurers were exaggerating the levels of fraud to reduce the rights of consumers. It said Aviva’s own figures suggested that it was investigating just 5% of claims it received.
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