Whiplash Injury Compensation
Introduction to Whiplash Injury Compensation
Whiplash is an umbrella term for a range of soft tissue injuries to the neck and cervical spine – the area which protects the spinal cord. Injuries to these soft tissues are most commonly caused in vehicle collisions where the victim has been hit from behind and the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding the spinal cord are hyper-extended as the head is thrust backwards and then forwards. Research has shown that a whiplash injury can occur in collisions with a speed difference between two vehicles of just five miles per hour.
There are no accurate statistics published in Ireland revealing exactly just how many whiplash injury compensation claims are made each year. Figures provided by the Injuries Board indicate that in 2010 they received a total of 26,964 new claims, of which 74 per cent were for motor vehicle liability. Based on the proportion of motor vehicle claims which are related to whiplash injury compensation in other countries, it is fair to estimate that there are over 14,000 claims for whiplash injury compensation made annually in Ireland.
Why You Need to Claim Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
Whiplash injury compensation is not only representative of the physical trauma you experience immediately after a whiplash injury, but also to provide you and your family with financial support during your recovery period. Research has also shown that whiplash victims lose an average of eight weeks from work with symptoms of whiplash such as dizziness, blurred vision, neck stiffness and loss of sensitivity in their hands and fingers – with some, more severe, whiplash injuries taking longer than six months to heal.
Victims of whiplash injuries have also been known to suffer from post traumatic depression and develop migraine-like headaches which affect their cognitive ability. If you are unable to work, drive and perform everyday tasks because of your injury, you may also sustain psychological whiplash syndrome – a condition in which you lose your confidence, become socially withdrawn, disconnect emotionally and develop a hyperactive startle reflex. Many people who have received a whiplash injury compensation settlement would gladly give back the money in return for the restoration of their physical and emotional wellbeing.
What to Do Immediately After a Vehicle Collision
Depending on the extent of your injuries, and those suffered by your passengers and other drivers, you may need to call for an ambulance and the assistance of the Gardai. The Gardai will usually attend an accident scene automatically if an ambulance has been summoned but, if there are no obvious injuries, they prefer to allow the drivers of the vehicles to resolve the matter themselves. If the Gardai have declined to attend the scene of the accident, you will need to make your own report to them to support your claim for whiplash injury compensation.
Therefore, it is important that wherever possible you exchange names, addresses and insurance details with the other driver(s), write down exactly what caused the accident to happen and record where the accident took place, what time of day it was, what the weather conditions were like and get details of any witnesses who can verify your account of events. If you have a mobile phone with a camera facility, take photographs of the scene, any damage done to your vehicle and the registration plate of the vehicle which belongs to the person you believe to be liable for the accident.
Your Health Comes Before Claiming Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
Even when you feel you are suffering no immediate whiplash symptoms, you should have a medical examination straight away. Symptoms of a whiplash injury may not manifest for days or even weeks after a vehicle collision, and in the immediately following an accident you could unwittingly participate in an activity which worsens the effect of the whiplash injury. Some whiplash injuries can have a permanent effect on your health so the sooner you are diagnosed with a whiplash injury and start to receive treatment for it, the better chance of a full recovery you will have.
Prioritising your health also eliminates the opportunity for the negligent driver (or their insurance company) to claim that your whiplash injury was caused by something other than the vehicle collision. Your doctor’s report – detailing your injuries and their cause – will also be used to support your claim for whiplash injury compensation and, if there is a dispute about the extent of liability, the date and time when the notes were made will be used in litigation to resolve this element of your whiplash injury claim.
How to Claim Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
A whiplash injury claim has, initially, to made to the Injuries Board Ireland. This can be done by either calling them and asking them to send you an application form, or completing the form online – please note that online applications for an assessment of children’s whiplash injury compensation is not permitted. You have to send the completed application form to the Injuries Board Ireland together with your supporting documentation and a fee of €45.00, at which point they will acknowledge your application and notify the person you hold responsible for your injury (the “Respondent”) of your intention to make a claim against them.
Provided the Respondent consents to the assessment of your whiplash injury claim, the Injuries Board Ireland will arrange for an independent medical examination of your whiplash injury. This is to ensure that they have the most accurate and up to date information on which to assess your claim for whiplash injury compensation and can judge how long it may take for you to recover. Thereafter they will issue you with a Notice of Assessment which puts a value on your whiplash injury compensation which you can either choose to accept or decline. The whole process from submission of your application form to receipt of the Notice of Assessment takes a little over six months.
Special Damages and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
The Injury Board Ireland’s assessment of your whiplash injury compensation claim covers both “General Damages” – compensation for the pain and suffering you have experienced from your physical trauma – and “Special Damages”. Special damages account for any out of pocket expenses you have incurred due to being injured in a road traffic accident and can cover (among other things) the cost of travelling to hospital to receive medical treatment, child care expenses (if you need somebody to look after your children while receiving treatment), vehicle damage costs and loss of earnings.
As everybody’s circumstances are unique, it is essential that you seek professional legal guidance when completing the special damages section of the Injuries Board application form. The amount of space provided on the form for the elaboration of your whiplash injury claim is extremely limited, and if – for example – the nature of your whiplash injury is such that you are unlikely to be working for several months, you need to make this fact abundantly clear in your whiplash injury compensation claim in order that you are adequately compensated.
Contributory Negligence and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
The respondent in your whiplash injury claim might choose, when asked to consent to the Injury Board Ireland’s assessment, to counter claim that you contributed to your injuries by your own negligence. Circumstances that may prompt this action would include if you failed to quickly seek medical attention or if your brake lights were obscured by dirt and the respondent was unable to tell that you were slowing down until it was too late to avoid a collision.
The Injuries Board Ireland declines to assess a whiplash injury compensation claim when there is a dispute over liability, and will instead issue you with an “Authorisation” to pursue your claim for whiplash injury compensation through the courts. This may also occur in a scenario where more than one vehicle was responsible for causing the vehicle collision – for example, should you brake sharply as negligent party A pulls across you in traffic, causing negligent party B to rear-end you.
The Courts and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
In addition to disputes over liability, litigation of your whiplash injury compensation claim may also be required if the Injuries Board Ireland issues a Notice of Assessment which either party feels is inappropriate to the extent of your injuries. You will need a solicitor to act as your representative in a Court of Law and, should it be necessary to pursue this course of action, your solicitor will keep you advised of the claim’s progress and of any procedures in which you need to be involved.
In Ireland, there is a three-tier court system depending on the potential value of your whiplash injury claim. District Courts will hear cases with a value of up to €6,348.69, while claims up to a value of €38,092.14 are resolved in the Circuit Courts. If a whiplash injury claim is likely to result in an award exceeding this amount, your case will be heard in the High Court. Fortunately, most claims for whiplash injury compensation are resolved by negotiation – sometimes even before the Injuries Board Ireland has issued an Authority to pursue your claim through the courts!
The Statute of Limitations and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
As with most countries, Ireland has a Statute of Limitations which places limits on the length of time available to you to make a compensation claim in a civil procedure. The Civil Liability and Courts Act (2004) decreed that, in all cases of personal injury compensation, a time limit of two years would exist from the date that there was “knowledge” of an injury in which to make a claim for compensation.
This amendment to the Statute of Limitations (the time limit was previously three years) applies from the date you were diagnosed with a whiplash injury, and not necessarily the date of the vehicle collision – although it is in your best interests to seek medical attention immediately. Exemptions apply to children under the age of 18, who have two years from the date they come of age in which to make a claim for whiplash injury compensation.
Children and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
It is not just drivers and their front seat passengers that can sustain a whiplash injury in a vehicle collision. Children – even when restrained in the back seat of a car – may also suffer from whiplash injuries and, due to their tender age and under-developed neck muscles, may sustain far worse injuries than the driver who has had caught a glimpse of an impending collision and had the opportunity to brace themselves against impact.
As mentioned above, whiplash injury compensation claims for children cannot be completed online and a parent or guardian has to make the claim on the child’s behalf acting as their “next friend”. Once a whiplash injury compensation settlement has been agreed for a child – either through the Injuries Board Ireland, by litigation in the courts or via negotiation with an insurance company – it has to be approved by a judge before the payment of whiplash injury compensation can be made.
Third Party Capture and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
Third party capture is the name given to an approach made to you directly by an insurance company, with an offer of early settlement for your whiplash injury compensation claim. This frequently occurs when an insurance company acknowledges that their client is liable for your injury and wishes to avoid potential legal costs. Although in the current economic climate an offer of immediate money may be tempting, the consequences of accepting the first offer that is presented to you could be devastating to you and your family if you are inadequately compensated. Once you have settled a whiplash injury compensation claim, you cannot go back for more should the money run out!
In the event of attempted third party capture, you should discuss the offer with your solicitor. The fact that the insurance company have made an offer indicates that they are willing to settle your whiplash injury compensation claim and, by negotiating with the insurance company, a solicitor should be able to negotiate a fair and adequate settlement of your whiplash injury claim. Even if you have not used a solicitor up until this point in your whiplash injury compensation claim, it is recommended that you seek professional legal advice before accepting any settlement offer from a car insurance company.
Solicitors and Whiplash Injury Compensation in Ireland
The role of a solicitor in a whiplash injury compensation claim in Ireland is to ensure that the strongest possible case is presented in support of your whiplash injury claim. The whiplash injury compensation claim should be prepared with such attention to detail that the eventual settlement figure reflects the full physical and psychological injury you have sustained as a result of a whiplash injury, and any financial consequences thereafter.
No amount of money can ever take the place of a lifelong health issue caused by a whiplash injury, but your financial security after an accident for which you were not to blame should not be left to chance. This is why it is strongly recommended that, as soon as you have received medical attention for any whiplash injury sustained in a vehicle collision, you contact an experienced personal injury claims solicitor at your earliest possible opportunity.