According to the Law Society (the independent professional body for solicitors across the UK), over three million people are injured in accidents each and every year. Suffice it to say accidents can happen at any time and anywhere – but whether you suffer a personal injury at home, at work or even in a public area, it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to make a claim against the person or company responsible for it.
Regardless of how the accident happened, the main purpose of compensation is to put you back into the position you would have been in, had the accident not occurred in the first place. Under no circumstances should personal injury claims be treated as a “cash injection” and in fact, any attempt to do so will be seriously frowned upon by the Court if not disregarded altogether.
In this article we take a look at how personal injury claims work, together with the many twists and turns that can often happen along the way.
What is considered to be a ‘personal injury’?
A personal injury is the legal term generally used to describe any type of physical injury to the body, although it can also include mental or psychological distress. In essence, it can be any type of injury caused to the “body” as opposed to an “object”.
What to do if you suffer a personal injury
If you suffer any type of personal injury, then you’re certainly well advised to seek legal advice at the soonest opportunity. The benefits of doing this are numerous since a good lawyer will quickly be able to tell you what you’ll need to make a personal injury claim whilst also ensuring that you have all the required information to make it a successful one.
If you’ve suffered a personal injury at work you may also be able to seek advice from your safety or union representative, although this should never replace seeking independent legal advice.
What happens during a personal injury claim
In the first instance your solicitor will want to collate as much information as possible to help construct the bare ‘bones’ of your case and will want to notify the other side of your intention to make a claim against them.
In order to achieve this, your solicitor will request certain information from you. This will usually include some (if not all) of the following:
- Full details of the accident which caused the personal injury. As far as you’re able, it’s advisable to take photographic evidence of the accident location and of the injuries sustained. Of course, some injuries (such as bruising) can often appear quite minor at the time of the accident but can then quickly progress into much more serious conditions.
- Your solicitor will also ask whether there were any independent witnesses to the accident and again, you should ensure that full contact details are obtained for this reason. It’s also a good idea to take witness statements sooner, rather than later, since the witness will be able to recall details better, including what they saw, what they can remember about it, who did what and so on.
- If the police attended the accident (as is often the case, for example, during road traffic incidents), then your solicitor will need a note of the police reference number so that a statement can be obtained from the officer (or officers) who attended the scene. On the whole, this type of evidence is readily accepted by both the Courts and the potential Defendant so if it’s available make sure you use it. The same applies to any dash cam evidence you might have since this is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to dispute.
- Since it’s likely that you’ll have received medical attention as a result of the accident, you’ll also need to provide consent for both your solicitor and the intended Defendant to have access to your medical records. Again, this type of evidence is rarely disputed since it’s both factual and independent by its very nature.
- If you’re making a claim for personal injury, then you can also claim compensation for any ‘general’ or ‘special’ damages you’ve suffered as a direct consequence of it. Whilst general damages can be extremely difficult to quantify (since they primarily relate to the pain and suffering you’ve been subjected to), special damages are much easier to calculate and usually include loss of earnings, damage to clothing, travel expenses and so on. They basically constitute actual financial loss.
It’s important to keep a note of any expenses which might arise as a result of the accident, together with any receipts, parking tickets, wage slips etc. If your accident has been particularly serious then you may also be able to claim for domestic assistance i.e. for help with day-to-day activities such as housework, DIY, gardening, cooking and personal care etc.
Once your solicitor is satisfied that they’ve got everything they need then they’re most likely to draft an initial letter of claim. Your solicitor will most likely send you a copy of this to approve before it’s sent out so that you can ensure it’s completely accurate. The letter of claim sets out the basic information and gives a factual account of the accident whilst explaining the legal basis for your claim.
Thereafter, your claim can take a number of different routes. The potential Defendant (or their insurer) may well offer a decent out of Court settlement and you should never underestimate the benefit of these since they can certainly save a lot of stress; particularly at a time when you might be attempting to recover and/or return to work.
In the alternative, they might well defend the case – either partially or in its entirety. If this happens then you need to discuss with your solicitor whether legal proceedings are the best way forward. If you conclude that they are, then your solicitor will need to draft a Claim Form, together with Particulars of Claim, for submission to the Court.
By this time, you’ll no doubt have started to think about the question of costs. Fortunately, whilst legal proceedings can most certainly be an expensive process, many law firms now offer a ‘no-win, no-fee’ agreement. These basically mean that all your legal costs (with the exception of certain disbursements, such as the Court issue fee) are covered by the law firm and are only recoverable in the event that your claim is successful. Ultimately, it’s quite possibly the best way to save in terms of initial cost – particularly at a time when you might have had your earnings reduced to Statutory Sick Pay.
At this point your solicitor might also recommend obtaining a medical report from an independent consultant and, if the case is proceeding on a defended basis, the other side might well request certain information from you. Put simply – be prepared.
Once proceedings have been issued by the Court, your case will be assigned to a certain ‘track’. Your solicitor will be able to tell you more about the process for each track but the type of track you follow will be largely determined by the amount and type of claim being made.
Thereafter, you can expect various directions to be made by the Court and even case management conferences to enable the Court to make ‘directions’ as they see fit along the way. It’s also likely that witness statements – and other evidence – will be exchanged throughout the proceedings; all with a view to reaching settlement and ideally without the matter having to go to trial.
As can be seen, personal injury claims can be extremely complex in nature and certainly need to be managed properly in order to succeed.
The main thing to remember during a personal injury claim is that ‘honesty’ really IS the best policy. Suffice it to say, if you fall into the trap of fabricating evidence – or simply over-exaggerating injuries, then you’ll not only discredit yourself but may even be slammed with a claim for contributory negligence. If that happens then you can expect prolonged proceedings, increased legal costs and a lot more stress than is necessary.
That said, with solid evidence, a willingness to settle and a good solicitor on your side, your personal injury claim should be capable of settling within a reasonable period of time and hopefully, to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.