If you find yourself having to make a claim for compensation, then it’s likely you’ll have a number of questions about the overall claims process. And that’s totally understandable. If you’ve suffered a personal injury, then your main priority will be to get back on your feet (and in some cases, back to work), so having to worry about the claim itself shouldn’t have to be a key consideration.
There are, of course, numerous reasons why you might need to make a claim. You might have had an accident at work, been involved in a road traffic collision or simply had a slip, trip or fall that you simply weren’t responsible for. All these scenarios mean you might be able to make a claim for compensation, and your solicitor will be able to guide you through the whole process, hopefully with minimal complications, so that you can simply concentrate on getting yourself better.
In this article, we look more specifically at how long it can typically take to make a claim and what you might encounter along the way.
How do I get started if I want to make a claim?
The first step towards making a claim for compensation is to find a good personal injury solicitor. Most of these will operate on a “no win, no fee” basis – which means that you won’t be liable for any upfront costs and won’t have to pay in the unfortunate event that your claim isn’t successful.
Fortunately, because “no win, no fee” cases mean your solicitor won’t get paid if your claim fails for any reason, you can usually be assured they have every faith in your claim and will be with you every step of the way.
What can I expect at my first consultation?
Most solicitors will offer a free consultation in order to talk with you about your claim, identify any strengths (or weaknesses) and collect any evidence they might need. This will usually include all (or some) of the following information/documentation:
- Any photographs you might have of the site where the accident took place
- Any photographs of personal injuries you might have sustained
- Details of your GP and whether you’ve attended any appointments and/or been prescribed any medication
- Details of any hospital records
- Details of any financial loss you might have suffered as a result of the accident (these are often referred to as “special damages”). These might include any travel expenses incurred whilst attending any hospital or GP appointments, parking expenses, the cost of replacing anything which might have been damaged in the incident (for example, clothing, mobile phones etc.) and any loss of earnings. For each of these expenses, your solicitor will ask for documentary evidence to support your loss – such as wage slips, repair estimates for any damage to your vehicle, parking tickets and so on. Your solicitor should also advise you to keep any future receipts so that these can be reimbursed by the other party when your claim is eventually finalised.
During this initial meeting, you can also raise any specific concerns you might have about your claim and what steps are likely to be needed in order to reach an amicable settlement with the other side.
How long does a claim take?
This is a question almost every claimant will ask their solicitor, but unfortunately, it can be quite a tricky one to answer! In fact, it’s almost impossible to predict how long any claim might take since much will depend on a number of different factors including:
- Whether the other party accepts liability or instead chooses to defend the claim (whether fully, or partly)
- How long it might take to arrange and attend any medical appointments
- Whether the other party accepts all the evidence put forward.
Of course, if the other party accepts full liability for the accident, then the claim can be settled much quicker than a case which becomes defended.
What’s the usual process?
Once you’ve had your initial meeting with your chosen solicitor, he or she will send a formal letter of claim to the other party and/or their insurers. This will set out the full basis of your claim and might also include any initial evidence, such as medical findings, details of financial loss and a basic summary of your current position, i.e. whether you’re able to attend work, whether you’re receiving ongoing treatment and so on.
If the other party accept this initial evidence, then you might be able to get a quick settlement and simply concentrate on getting back to normal. However, if they dispute the evidence – or require further proof of your claim – then you might need to attend further medical appointments; particularly if your injuries are likely to result in long-term problems or are simply more complex.
If your injuries are potentially serious, then your solicitor will advise you not to settle the claim until such time as you’ve either made a full recovery or have a firm medical prognosis in place. This will usually be in the form of an expert report. Remember that once a claim is settled, it’s done on a “full and final settlement basis” which means you can’t then submit further claims in the future. Consequently, the importance of having a proper diagnosis for long-term conditions should never be underestimated.
In terms of the actual settlement amount, your solicitor will consider how much he or she feels your claim for ‘pain and suffering’ should be worth (also known as ‘general damages’). As you might expect, this aspect can be quite difficult to calculate since no two cases are ever the same. However, once any medical reports have been obtained, your solicitor will compare your level of injuries to that of other previously settled cases where similar injuries have been sustained and have taken the same sort of timescale to recover from. They will also refer to formal personal injury guidelines for further clarification of how much your claim might be worth. 
What if my claim is considered to be complex?
As a general rule, the more severe or complex your injuries are considered to be then the longer your claim is likely to take in order to reach a settlement. There are various reasons for this but, as you might expect, more complex injuries are likely to take much longer to heal. Indeed, it may be that your medical expert suggests a further review in a few months’ time – in which case, you’ll have no option but to wait and see how your recovery progresses over time simply. Whilst this can often be frustrating it really is in your best interests since longer-term conditions may not be noticeable straight away and can take some time to manifest themselves fully.
What if I have to take considerable time off work as a result of the accident?
If your injuries are such that you find yourself unable to return to work, such as a knee injury (see here) then your solicitor might suggest requesting interim payments from the other party. These payments are made in advance of the final settlement amount, and any amount paid to you prior to the settlement will simply be deducted from the final payment.
These types of payment can be particularly useful if you have certain financial obligations, such as mortgage or rent payments – particularly for those who only qualify for statutory sick pay and would otherwise find themselves struggling to make ends meet whilst waiting for the claim to settle.
Are there any formal procedures to follow?
Throughout the claim process, your solicitor will follow certain protocols relating to personal injuries.
If, for example, your claim is considered to be of “low value” (i.e. between £1,000 and £25,000) then your solicitor will be able to follow a much more streamlined process.  This could potentially see your case settled within a period of 9 months. However, each case is also capable of being removed from this process – particularly when the question of liability arises, as can often be the case.
What’s more, for complex cases, (such as claims for industrial disease or medical negligence), then the settlement period is much more likely to be extended and settlement times of up to three years certainly aren’t uncommon.
Unfortunately, for the very reasons already mentioned, your solicitor certainly won’t be able to give you a definitive answer as to how long your claim will take to process. Whilst they might well be able to provide you with an educated guess, they certainly won’t recommend you rushing to reach a full and final settlement – particularly if your future prognosis remains uncertain.
That said, with the ability to receive interim payments for any financial loss – and the right lawyer on your side – there’s certainly no reason why your settlement shouldn’t be worth holding out for. As the old adage goes – “good things come to those who wait!”
 Personal Injury Guidelines – https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/supplement-to-pi-guidelines/
 Pre-Action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury Claims in Road Traffic Accidents from 31st July 2013 – http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/protocol/pre-action-protocol-for-low-value-personal-injury-claims-in-road-traffic-accidents-31-july-2013