23 March, 2021
The new rules setting out the process for claiming damages arising from road traffic accidents (RTAs), and the tariff for damages that applies specifically to whiplash claims from RTAs come into force on 31 May 2021.
They have been a long time coming, having been announced by the Government as long ago as 2015, but at last, they are here. They apply to claims relating to accidents that occur on or after 31 May 2021.
In the first place, the Small Claims Track limit will be increased from £1000 to £5000 for personal injury claims arising out of RTAs. This applies to the injury element alone. It remains at £1000 for RTAs occurring before 31 May 2021 and for Employers' and Public Liability claims, for now at least (see Forbes Comment below).
Claims for personal injury damages arising out of road traffic accidents worth less than £5000 (and an overall claim value of less than £10 000) will be made through the new portal as of 31 May 2021. This is a process designed to be accessed by claimants directly without the need to employ a solicitor, and any legal costs incurred will not be recoverable.
Exceptions to the Small Claims Track limit and the new process include claims by or on behalf of children, protected parties and vulnerable road users (ie cyclists and motor cyclists and their passengers, horse riders, pedestrians and mobility scooter or wheelchair users).
The reforms also usher in a new era of fixed damages for whiplash claims, limiting the amount payable by defendants and their insurers to £240 for injuries not lasting longer than 3 months, rising to a maximum of £4215 for injuries continuing for up to 24 months.
"Whiplash" is defined as an injury of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder if it is a sprain, strain, tear, rupture or lesser damage of a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder, or an injury of soft tissue associated with a muscle, tendon or ligament in the neck, back or shoulder.
It specifically excludes an injury of soft tissue which is a part of or connected to another injury, and that the other injury is not an injury of soft tissue in the neck, back or shoulder.
Points to note:
Compensators will need to be alive to the possibility of claims inflation and attempts on behalf of claimants to get damages for RTAs out of the new process and Small Claims Track limit and tariff when they should really fall within this process.
It is also worth noting that the Government has not abandoned the idea of increasing the Small Claims Limit for Employers' and Public Liability claims. They said on the 2 March that they were "still committed" to increasing the Small Claims Track limit in these claims even if not immediately.