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Making a claim for whiplash compensation isn’t always as easy as the popular media lead us to believe. There’s a wide range of things you should know before embarking on a claim, from how the severity of injuries are judged, to the different ways you can go about seeking a settlement. This comprehensive guide aims to throw light on the whole process and leave you in a position to get the compensation you deserve.

What Constitutes Whiplash?

‘Whiplash’ is commonly used as an umbrella term to describe soft tissue injuries to the neck resulting from road traffic accidents, typically rear end collisions. The main feature of a whiplash injury is hyperextension or hyperflexion (where tendons and ligaments are forced passed their natural limits) occurring in the neck as the head is thrown forward by the force of the impact.

These injuries can be sustained at very low speeds and, frequently, whiplash occurs where one car was completely stationary and the other was travelling at speeds of just a few miles per hour. Sometimes pain will be immediate, but is not uncommon for the symptoms of whiplash, which tend to include reduced movement of the neck and headaches, to only present themselves in the days after the traffic accident. This is because swelling, bruising and stiffness take time to develop.

Whilst only a small number of such injuries go on to cause lasting damage, it’s still important to receive immediate medical treatment to avoid prolonged discomfort. This is especially important if you find you have a sense of vertigo or are experiencing blurred vision. (You can find a full list of whiplash symptoms from the NHS.)

More serious cases are known as ‘chronic whiplash’. This where the symptoms from the initial incident persist for six months or more. The drawn out nature of chronic whiplash can lead to other emotional and psychological problems developing, such as anxiety and depression.

How Much Compensation Will I Be Able to Claim?

If you suffer your injuries (not only neck but back and shoulder among others) as a result of an accident that was demonstrably the fault of another party you may be entitled to make a whiplash compensation claim. How much you can expect to receive will depend on a number of factors, but how long you’ve suffered as a result of the condition and the severity of your impairment will be the primary considerations.

The Judicial Studies Board sets out broad guidelines for how to award in general damages in cases pertaining to personal injuries. These guidelines are regularly adjusted but generally speaking a case where the symptoms are resolved within a year could be expected lead to a compensation payment of £1,000 to £2,500.

If recovery takes up to two years the figure may be closer to £5,000. If the symptoms are ongoing you could be looking at £16,000. In rare cases where you are left in a severe suffering for the rest of your life due to a whiplash injury, the sums paid out can be several times higher.

These are, of course, only rough guidelines. How much you will actually receive will depend entirely on the specifics of your individual case. A more accurate indication of how much you may be eligible to receive can be given to you by a personal injury lawyer using their knowledge of your type of symptoms to reference similar injury claims and see how much courts have awarded in the past.

As well as claiming for ‘general damages’ (the impact on your health), you could also be eligible to receive compensation for ‘special damages’; things such as loss of earnings resulting directly from your condition and your inability to work, the cost of nurses or carers required during your recovery and expenses relating to damage to your vehicle are all recoverable as special damages (though it’s important to keep receipts for all such as costs.)

How Do I Claim Whiplash Compensation?

There are a number of different routes you can pursue when making a whiplash accident claim. One of the simplest methods is to seek an out of court settlement with your insurer. However, this can often result in a much lower payment and can come with added conditions. For example, the payment may be staggered over a lengthy period of time, rather than being awarded as a lump sum. Furthermore, you may be asked to forgo your right to make additional claims in the future. Always be wary of offers made before you’ve received a prognosis from a medical professional, as you may be tempted to settle for much less than you’re entitled to.

You can also contact a personal injury solicitor. Usually, you’ll be offered an introduction to a solicitor through your insurance company. It’s worth bearing in mind that this a large source of revenue for the insurer as they’re able to essentially sell your case on for a referral fee.

It can, therefore, be well worth your while to find a specialist accident claims company or an independent solicitor with relevant experience to take on your case, preferably on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

As previously discussed, the value of your claim is largely determined by how long your injury lasts for. To get a good idea of the time it’ll take for your symptoms to resolve, and for an expert assessment of just how serious they are, you need to see a medical professional. Obviously, getting their advice will be extremely important for your own well being, but it’ll also act as vital evidence should you decide to make a claim. A solicitor should be able to put you in touch with a medical professional with no links to insurers.

Furthermore, a specialist whiplash solicitor (or company) should have arrangements in place with organisations with treatment providers and replacement vehicle services which they can offer at no cost (the money being recovered from the other side).

If you have legal expenses insurance you’ll have the bonus of having the costs of making your claim covered, but don’t forget, you’re still entitled to engage a solicitor of your own choosing, even if your insurers put somebody else forward to you.

Up until you have a solicitor onboard, make sure you are documenting your case as much as possible. Keep a record of things like consultations with GPs or losses related to your injury and make sure you can back up anything you’d want to refer to in your claim.

This is important for out of pocket expenses that you’d look to claim back as ‘special damages’ as you need to be able to show that they are directly linked to your whiplash and haven’t been spent for any other reason. For example, if you are forced to cancel a skiing trip, ensure you have documentation from your doctor stating that this was necessary due to your whiplash.

When you are made an offer of whiplash compensation, you have to think carefully before accepting a settlement because, once you do, you can make no further claims for the same injury. So, should it later transpire that your injuries are much more serious and long term than you initially thought, you’ll be unable to get extra compensation to reflect this development.

Finally, bear in mind that from a legal standpoint you’ll be normally expected to make your claim within 3 years of the road accident occurring, and you may find that many an injury lawyer is reluctant to take whiplash compensation cases where the incident occurred two or more years ago, as it makes gathering the required evidence and reports much harder work.