The Supreme Court Levels the Playing Field for Car Injury Claims

A Landmark Decision: The Supreme Court Levels the Playing Field for Car Injury Claims

In a landmark judgment with far-reaching consequences for the motor insurance industry, the Supreme Court has definitively addressed how compensation for minor injuries is calculated under the Civil Liability Act 2018. This decision directly impacts the landscape of “whiplash claims,” a term used for neck, back, and shoulder injuries sustained in car accidents.

The Stakes: Balancing the Scales in Minor Car Injury Claims

While individual “whiplash claim” damages might be relatively modest, the sheer volume (approximately 300,000 annually) translates into a collective annual value exceeding hundreds of millions of pounds.

Civil Liabiltiy Act 

The 2018 Civil Liability Act aimed to streamline this process by introducing a significantly reduced tariff for whiplash injuries. Implemented in 2021, the Act successfully decreased both awarded damages and associated costs. However, a crucial question remained unanswered: how would these reforms impact compensation for other injuries sustained alongside whiplash?

Would additional pain, suffering, and loss of amenity still be compensated at a higher, common law rate? Or would the Act’s indirect effect unintentionally limit compensation for all injuries, regardless of type?

A Divided Landscape: The Court of Appeal’s Split Decision

The Court of Appeal initially grappled with this issue, with a majority ruling that claimants would continue to receive full common law compensation for non-whiplash injuries. However, the Master of the Rolls dissented strongly, advocating for a different approach.

The Supreme Court’s Verdict: Clarity and Fairness

The Supreme Court stepped in, delivering a unanimous judgment that decisively affirmed the majority approach adopted by the Court of Appeal. This judgment dismisses the appeals lodged by insurers, ensuring a fairer system for claimants.

Cross-Appeals Rejected: Avoiding Overcompensation

The Court also rejected cross-appeals that argued for a simple addition of the tariff amount and common law awards. This approach could potentially lead to overcompensation in some cases.

The Path Forward: A Structured Methodology

Delivering the unanimous judgment, Lord Burrows outlined a clear and structured methodology for calculating compensation in such cases. This approach aligns with the successful arguments presented by claimants.

Here’s a breakdown of the Court’s established approach:

  1. Assess the Whiplash Tariff: The first step involves determining the appropriate compensation amount based on the whiplash injury using the established tariff system.
  2. Evaluate Common Law Damages for Other Injuries: Next, the court assesses the damages for non-whiplash injuries through a common law lens, considering the specific pain, suffering, and loss of amenity caused.
  3. Total the Amounts: The court then combines the tariff amount and the common law damages to arrive at a preliminary combined value.
  4. Ensuring Fairness: The “Totality Adjustment” Crucially, the court takes a step back to consider whether an overall adjustment (“totality adjustment”) is necessary to prevent either overcompensation or undercompensation for the combined injuries. This ensures a fair reflection of the total impact on the claimant.
  5. Fine-Tuning the Common Law Award: If a “totality adjustment” is deemed necessary, the court will adjust the common law damages accordingly.
  6. A Minimum Threshold: Guaranteeing Fair Compensation Finally, the court ensures that the overall awarded damages never fall below the amount that would have been awarded at common law solely for the non-whiplash injury. This safeguard guarantees that claimants receive fair compensation for the full extent of their injuries.


This landmark judgment by the Supreme Court clarifies the application of the Civil Liability Act in cases involving both whiplash and other related injuries. It establishes a clear and structured framework for calculating compensation, ensuring a more level playing field for claimants pursuing car injury claims.

The decision upholds the principles of fairness and ensures that claimants receive appropriate compensation for the pain, suffering, and loss of amenity they experience due to car accidents.

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