Covid-19 has caused disruption to the delivery of civil justice including the whiplash reforms in England and Wales which were due to come into effect in August this year. Here we recap on the reforms and update on the current position.

Recap on the ‘whiplash reforms’?

‘Whiplash reforms’ is the commonly-used term for the package of measures introduced by the Government to reform the way low-value personal injury claims arising from Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) are managed. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says the reforms will “reduce insurance costs for ordinary motorists by tackling the continuing high number and cost of whiplash claims."

The Civil Liability Act 2018 will introduce a new fixed tariff of damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity as well as banning claims being settled without a medical assessment.

The MoJ is also working to develop a new Pre-Action Protocol and changes to the Civil Procedure Rules to support the reform programme. One of these rules changes will be to raise the Small Claims Track limit for RTAs from £1,000 to £5,000. This will mean that claimants cannot recover their legal fees for making a successful personal injury claim below £5,000. For many, the only option may be to represent themselves.

The reforms will introduce a self-service online 'portal' system for RTA claims falling within the new small claims limit allowing claimants to pursue their claim directly with insurers. The MIB is overseeing the new service, entitled Official Injury Claim, which will be accessible for anyone seeking to intimate a low-value RTA personal injury claim of up to £5,000 (to a maximum total of £10,000 for all losses) without needing legal support.

For further information on the reforms, please see our previous blog.

COVID-19 Delay

The UK government announced in April 2020 that work related to the implementation of the whiplash reforms in the Civil Liability Act 2018, and the raising of the small claims limit for road traffic accident claims, has been paused and the implementation timetable moved to April 2021.

The Lord Chancellor acknowledged that the pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors, and that the further delay will allow the UK Government to concentrate on maintaining key services in the justice area.

Prior to this announcement, many industry experts had commented that the new whiplash portal was not ready to go live in August 2020 in any event as issues such as tariff levels and necessary changes to the Civil Procedure Rules were yet to be resolved.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) welcomed the delay so that safeguards could be looked at to ‘ensure injured people are able to gain access to justice.’ APIL have proposed alternative dispute resolution alongside the new whiplash portal so that unrepresented claimants have an outlet if liability or the value of the claim is disputed.

The UK Government confirmed that it will make further announcements on the whiplash reforms, including on the Parliamentary timetable for the relevant statutory instruments, in due course.

Medical examinations for whiplash claims

MedCo, the organisation overseeing diagnosis of RTA soft tissue injury, has confirmed that the ban on remote examinations will remain suspended “until further notice.” Medical experts are allowed to continue using video examinations for claims under the current Pre-Action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury Claims in Road Traffic Accidents. The rules around online appointments were relaxed as a temporary measure at the height of the lockdown caused by the coronavirus crisis.

For further information please contact one of our Insurance and Risk experts.