Making an Impact in low speed road accident cases
By Adam Manning
As the insurance industry has tried to tackle fraudulent claims for road traffic accidents, it has targeted a certain type of collision with a view to challenging an injured party’s right to compensation. Vehicle collisions taking place at a low speed have been a particular focus for insurance companies seeking to reject or defend claims with the argument being that if the crash happened at a low speed it could not therefore have caused any injury to those involved.
A large number of road traffic accidents are termed rear end shunts. These occur when one car fails to stop in time and as a result hits the rear of the car in front. As many will know, the general assumption is that the accident is the fault of the driver of the car behind as the driver should have left enough space to be able to avoid hitting the car in front.
Where the collisions have occurred at a low speed, say lower than 5 mph, the insurance companies that act for the defendant (that is the person causing the crash) have sometimes sought to challenge a claim for injury. This is on the basis that the impact occurred at such a low velocity that it could have not caused the injuries the person making the claim (the claimant) is alleging. The insurance companies are effectively saying that the claimants in these cases are lying or exaggerating about the nature and extent of their injuries.
The type of injuries people suffer in these sorts of collisions are generally whiplash style injuries where the head and body are thrown forward and back due to the impact of one car hitting another whilst the body is restrained by the seat belt. This movement can occur at very low speeds. Cars have for many years been designed to increase the safety of their occupants but the design principals involved are mainly aimed at lessening the impact of higher speed impacts than those occurring in these sorts of cases. As a result, the safety systems of car designs are not always focussed as much on impacts of a lower speed.
Scientific studies, mostly carried out in the USA, have suggested that the body can be injured in low speed crashes and that it is not as simple as suggesting that because an impact happened at low speed, it therefore means the occupants of the car could not have been injured. The abrupt changes in velocity involved in a crash can lead to trauma and pain to those involved at all sorts of speeds.
If a lawyer acting on behalf of someone injured in an accident receives this sort of response then they ought to investigate the case thoroughly to ensure all the evidence is in place to tackle such a challenge. This can involve obtaining all the medical records of the person involved to establish they had to seek medical advice after the incident due to their symptoms. Engineer’s or assessor’s reports can be obtained to set out how the vehicles were damaged in the crash along with photographs to give a visual record. Not that photos of indentations to bumpers on cars, for example, are necessarily the end of the matter. Damage to a vehicle does not necessarily always equate with how the people inside the vehicle have fared. The metal framework of a car responds very differently to a collision to the rather more vulnerable human bodies inside.
Witness evidence of what actually happened is very important as well. If anyone was in the car that the claimant was in, they ought to be asked to provide a statement to confirm how the accident happened along with statements from anyone who saw it. As much detail as possible needs to be garnered.
A medical report will need to be obtained and due to the nature of the allegations being raised by the Defendant’s insurance company it is a good idea to consider getting one from an orthopaedic consultant to add authority to the evidence.
Previous cases in this area decided by the Court have laid down guidelines about how they should proceed. As the insurance company is in some respects raising an allegation of fraud they have to be careful how they proceed due to the seriousness with which the Court views the matter. There have been cases where insurance companies have failed to follow the Court’s guidelines and then not been able to defend the case any further. The lawyer acting for the injured party must be aware of the procedure the Courts expect the parties to follow in these sorts of cases and as a result expert legal advice is needed to ensure the injured party has every chance of winning the compensation they are entitled too.