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A P A I N I N T H E N E C K
What is … whiplash?
On the one hand, everyone knows what whiplash is. Soft tissue injury to the neck, often following a car accident, with symptoms of neck pain, back pain and headache. It was identified as far back as 1928, and before cars were common it was called ‘railroad spine’ because it occurred after train crashes. On the other hand, reported incidents of whiplash have increased in Britain to the point that insurers now receive nearly 1,200 claims for the injury every day. With more than a thousand people a day limping to the doctor clutching their necks, some might worry that we are in the midst of a terrifying new epidemic. But they would be worrying unnecessarily.
The rise in whiplash is part of a huge, self-serving scam between lawyers, insurers and others that has sent car insurance premiums rocketing. Whiplash injuries account for an estimated 14 per cent of each driver’s premium – about £44 a year – and cost the insurance industry £2 billion a year, ultimately paid by you, dear driver.
Department for Transport statistics show the number of accidents has fallen by ten per cent over the past three years. Thefts are down and cars are safer, yet at the same time car insurance is rocketing. At least half of the annual rise in premiums is down to the cost of personal injury claims, which rose in the same time by forty-three per cent. And eighty per cent of those claims are for whiplash.
Whiplash is an ideal claim because it is hard to prove. Caused by a sudden distortion of the neck, it tends to affect only soft tissue such as muscles and ligaments that do not show up on an X-ray. Its symptoms can occur some time after an accident and it can be present where there is no physical evidence of an injury. When someone turns up at the doctor claiming whiplash, they don’t even need to be suffering any pain at all to qualify. The first grade of the Quebec scale used to classify whiplash is ‘No complaint about the neck, no physical signs’.
No one would dispute that there are many genuine cases of whiplash. But fake whiplash has been around a long time too. In America the problem inspired a 1966 film directed by Billy Wilder, Meet Whiplash Willie (also known as The Fortune Cookie) starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. In Britain however it was not until 1999 that changes to the law restricting legal aid for personal injury actions kicked off the rise in claims which has earned us the delightful title Whiplash Capital of Europe.
To replace legal aid, the government allowed new ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements for lawyers, which effectively meant no one need worry about how much hiring a lawyer would cost them. On top of that, last year the Ministry of Justice introduced a new process for dealing with motor injury claims of £10,000 or less and set a fixed fee for legal costs.
The fixed fee was great news for lawyers. For a typical whiplash compensation claim of £2,500, the lawyer would earn a fixed fee of £1,350. Obviously guaranteed profits like this mean personal injury lawyers want as many claimants as they can find. Their ‘ambulance chasing’ exploits range from dismal daytime advertising to unwanted texts and cold calls. Enter the word ‘whiplash’ in a search engine and you will be confronted with a barrage of invitations from law firms to discover how much your whiplash claim could be ‘worth’ (£875 to £5,150 for minor whiplash, £5,150 to £16,400 for moderate and £97,000 for severe).
The good news is that the first stage of addressing the whiplash business is now underway. The controversial ‘referral fees’, by which lawyers get their hands on the details of accident victims by making payments to claims management companies, unions, police, hospitals, and even the insurers themselves, are to be abolished. These ‘referral fees’, worth about £800 a time, were undoubtedly at the heart of bogus personal injury claims.
The ‘no win, no fee’ system however, remains. And while that is in place, accident victims can still sue at no risk to themselves, with no stake in the level of costs of bringing a case. It remains to be seen whether a reform of that system, coupled with a requirement for proof of injury for making claims (as exists in Germany), will be enough to halt the whiplash epidemic. After all, at this year’s ‘Whiplash conference’, James Dalton, of the Association of British Insurers, said: ‘Despite the statistics, I doubt that the UK has some of weakest necks in Europe. Often difficult to diagnose, easy to fake and exaggerate, whiplash is a fraudster’s dream.’
‘You complete bastard!!’
16 THE OLDIE – November 2011 Olden life
What was … Mr Drage’s 50 Pay-Way?
MR DRAGE was an early practitioner of conversational style press advertising. Drage’s house furnishers was established in High Holborn around 1908 and by 1914 it was promoting ‘furnishing out of income’. Many families experienced great difficulty in raising sufficient funds to furnish a house, and Drage’s ‘furnishing out of income’ was the slogan that described the scheme devised to ease that burden.
Although by the late 1800s various forms of hire purchase had been used by the working classes to finance the acquisition of sewing machines and pianos, there was still stigma attached to buying goods on credit. Mr Drage set about removing this obstacle with a vengeance, claiming his ‘50 Pay-Way’ system brought a wellfurnished home within the reach of all.
His scheme was brilliant in conception, professionally executed, its timing spot-on, and it was simplicity itself. A customer could order furniture to the value of £100, pay a deposit of £2, and settle the balance in forty-nine equal monthly instalments of £2 – fifty payments in all, hence the ‘50 Pay-Way’. Of course there were other furniture retailers offering deferred terms of payment, but many aspects of Mr Drage’s carefully studied campaign set him apart from the rest.
Mr Drage, who had changed his name from Cohen by deed poll in 1912, was portrayed in all advertising and sales catalogues as the epitome of benevolence. Amongst the many benefits of paying the Drage 50 Pay-Way were: no references were required; no additional charges for credit were made; and all deliveries, in plain vans, were
A tempting mise en scène from the masterly Mr and Mrs Everyman Talk Things Over with Mr Drage; Below, Major and Mrs Everyman get the patter free. In addition, every item of furniture was guaranteed, carpets and lino were laid without charge, and a year of free storage was provided for furniture not immediately required. Astonishingly, railway fares were refunded to provincial customers on all orders over £40, and there was even a free fire and life assurance policy covering the cost of the furniture.
Then there was the absolute clincher. If a customer had paid a portion of their account, and adverse circumstances then prevented the continuation of payments, the full value for all they had paid would be allowed, and only the furniture that had not been paid for was to be returned. This surrender value principle was absolutely unique – in contrast, the contracts used by Mr Drage’s competitors allowed repossession of all goods included in the transaction in cases of default, irrespective of the amount already paid.
The Drage 50 Pay-Way was extensively advertised in the national press, and full-page advertisements in the Times, with illustrations by well-known artists of the day, were not uncommon. Interested parties were invited to send for a lavishly illustrated brochure entitled Mr and Mrs Everyman Talk Things Over with Mr Drage – an absolute classic in salesmanship, launched in 1922. Within its 36 pages were recorded details of Mr Drage’s (supposed) conversations with a mechanic, doctor, school teacher, bank cashier, clergyman, lady secretary (stressing that ladies were as welcome as men), farmer, etc. In each case, at the close of each discussion, the potential customer placed an order on the ‘50 pay-way basis’.
Interested parties were encouraged to visit the High Holborn showroom, where Mr Drage was waiting to welcome his guests. It is not known how he managed to deal with the crowds that flocked to take advantage of his offering, but crowds undoubtedly came, as the firm became a public company in 1926, profits in the three previous years having risen from £71,000 to £146,000 – substantial sums in those days.
For a time, the company achieved nationwide iconic status, being included in Norman Long’s music hall songs, Billy Bennett’s monologues and Julian Rose’s recording of ‘Becky Ginsberg’s Wedding’.
It was even mentioned in Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Benjamin Drage was knighted in 1932 and eventually the business was subsumed into the maw of Sir Isaac Wolfson’s Great Universal Stores.
Although published over ninety years ago, a copy of Mr and Mrs Everyman Talk Things Over with Mr Drage should be made available to every business school in the country.
November 2011 – THE OLDIE 17