IN Lithuania, rear-end collisions happen much as they do in the rest of the world. Cars crash, bumpers crumple and tempers flare. But drivers in cars that have been hit there do not seem to suffer the long-term complaints so common in other countries: the headaches or lingering neck pains that have come to be known as chronic whiplash, or whiplash syndrome.
Cars are no safer in Lithuania, and the average neck is not any stronger. The difference, a new study says, might be described as a matter of indemnity.
Drivers in Lithuania did not carry personal-injury insurance at the time of the study, and people there were not in the habit of suing one another. Most medical bills were paid by the government. And although some private insurance is now appearing, at the time there were no claims to be filed, no money to be won and nothing to be gained from a diagnosis of chronic whiplash. Most Lithuanians, in fact, had never heard of whiplash….
Whiplash is the bane of the insurance industry. From half to two-thirds of all the people who file injury claims from car accidents report back and neck sprains. Insurers say some of those claims are false, or exaggerated.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that $16 of every $100 paid out in auto injury claims is for fraudulent claims and that half of that amount is paid for “exaggerated soft-tissue claims,” which include whiplash. Phony medical claims cost the insurance industry billions of dollars; those expenses are passed on to the public and add from $100 to $130 to the price of each car-insurance policy, said Carolyn Gorman, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute in Washington.
“Whiplash is a claim that’s growing,” Ms. Gorman said. “But you can’t be glib and think everybody’s faking it. For someone who really has whiplash, it is painful and it can last a long time and cost a lot of money. But it’s hard to tell whether someone has it. You can’t prove it.”