Have I got a valid claim for Personal Injury Compensation?
Solicitors say that this is the first question they are asked by clients after they have been involved in an accident. For some, the idea of personal injury claims conjures up negative images of money grabbing, yet 2.4 million people in the UK make personal injury claims every year which proves that accidents are a part of life. To answer this question, your solicitor will look at numerous factors including liability, actual injuries suffered, the statute of limitations, negligence and other crucial points.
Assessing personal injury and other damage sustained
Without an actual injury, you generally cannot proceed with a personal injury claim. In order to win compensation, you must have sustained either an actual physical injury or a psychological one. Irrespective or whether the other party acted in a negligent or even criminal manner and was completely at fault, without an injury of some sort you cannot make a successful claim. Unless you can prove that you were psychologically affected, near misses do not count. If you suffered financial damage in the accident however, you can still make a claim to retrieve the value of what was lost.
Personal injury claims and negligence
An additional factor that must be considered is the fact that someone who had a duty of care towards you must be responsible for negligence that led to the accident. If for example, you were a patient whose doctor is guilty of malpractice that caused injury to you, there would be a strong case against them. Yet you cannot make a claim against any individual or company if they can prove that they provided a safe environment for their staff/customers etc.
So if someone fell down some stairs in a restaurant but it was proved that the establishment followed all safety regulations to the letter, the plaintiff may well have no case. In this instance, it is entirely possible that the court would decide that the accident was due either to bad luck or clumsiness on the part of the plaintiff and no compensation would be forthcoming. This is where you need your solicitor’s advice regarding situations where a duty of care might exist.
Personal Injury Liability
With personal injury claims, the causes of the accident are not always black and white. Most of the time, one party must take full responsibility but there will be occasions when two or more parties could be to blame and other times where the injured party is at fault. In these instances, how do the courts decide who is to blame? If the injured party is responsible for their own accident, are they entitled to any compensation? This is where you need a solicitor’s advice.
The court or concerned parties may decide that both parties must share the blame in what is known as contributory negligence. This is when the plaintiff accepts or is found to have been somewhat to blame for their injuries because they were negligent in their behaviour even when they realised that there was a potentially dangerous situation ahead. This is then compared with the negligence attributed to the defendant.
If the plaintiff is found to have contributed far more to their own accident than the defendant, they could lose the case, or at least a percentage of what might otherwise have been awarded. For example, if the plaintiff is deemed to have been 20% to blame for the accident, then they will receive 20% less compensation than they would have had they been completely blameless. So if there was an accident with a clear case of negligence that caused no injury or an injury sustained in an accident without negligent behaviour on the part of the defendant, then there can be no case.
When an accident occurs, your safety and that of any other victims should be of primary concern with any thoughts of personal injury claims relegated to the background. If someone has been seriously injured phone an ambulance and the police if necessary. Should you be involved in an accident of any nature, be sure to visit the casualty section of a hospital or make an appointment with your GP at the very least. Even if you feel at the pinnacle of health after an accident, it is essential that you receive a full check up as injuries such as whiplash can remain hidden for several months. Any financial compensation received from successful personal injury claims is scant consolation should you receive serious injuries. Those who have been badly hurt in an accident but have gained huge amounts financially are never satisfied with the outcome and would prefer their full health back.
If you attend hospital after an accident, as you should, they will record your visit in their medical files and this could prove to be an important piece of evidence in support of your personal injury claim. Make sure that all consultations, prescriptions and treatment is carefully recorded as this should be standard practice.
Reporting the accident to the police
It is vital to contact the police after an accident, particularly a road accident. In general, the police will not come to the scene of an accident if it has been reported that there are no apparent injuries. This is because it is expected that both drivers will be able to come to an agreement on the matter at hand. In terms of injuries sustained via falls etc. at work, the police will only intervene if there is potential criminal negligence involved. Alert the authorities if you feel that an accident involving you may have been the result of criminal negligence.
The police will arrive if the accident is of a serious nature resulting in bad injuries. They will take a sketch of the scene as well as taking statements from witnesses and questioning the parties involved in the accident. Their investigation could result in one party being prosecuted should the whole affair reach the courts.
In the event that the police fail to attend the scene, the onus is on you to attend the nearest constabulary and report the accident as well as asking them to record accident details such as the location of the accident, registration numbers, insurance details and names of all parties concerned. All police stations have a specific accident report book for this purpose.
Formalities for Personal Injury Compensation
After a road accident, it is imperative that the parties involved exchange information such as their name, address and insurance details. Yet sometimes it is impossible to achieve this due to serious injuries sustained by one or more of the parties as well as the occasional aggressive response of either party. Should you be unable to exchange details, (and even if you do) ensure that you take down their registration number, (remember, just because the other driver cooperated doesn’t mean that they were honest). A registration number can be used to identify a driver and verify that the information they gave was accurate.
Dealing with hit and run accidents and lack of contact information
Serious injury will always end any opportunity you have of exchanging driver contact information. If you have been involved in an accident where the other driver did not give you information such as their name, insurance and contact details, for whatever reason, remember that your solicitor can still make a personal injury claim on your behalf. This is possible if the police have attended the scene of the accident because your solicitor can pay them a small fee for a full police report as well as details of the other driver.
Perhaps you have just been the victim of a hit and run accident where the other driver turned out to be uninsured. In this instance, your solicitor can contact the Motor Insurer’s Bureau – an organisation that protects victims of road accidents when the driver who caused the accident is not insured. They can act as the negligent driver’s insurance company and pay compensation to the victim.
Using the Accident Report Book to record the accident
Should the accident take place in the workplace, restaurant, shop or any other organisation the employer should have an accident report book at hand to record the incident. If you are the victim of an accident you can insist that the business records the details immediately after the accident takes place. You should never admit responsibility or liability for the accident as your solicitor can use copies of the book as evidence to support your personal injury claim.
Technology as an ally
It is estimated that 40 million Britons own a mobile phone with 85% of the adult population believed to be in possession of one. This means that contacting the police immediately after an accident should be easy to do. The majority of modern mobile phones have video camera technology so record or take pictures of the accident if possible. Pictures that can show the damage incurred by your vehicle as well as road and weather conditions could be invaluable and common sense dictates that recording the licence plate number of the other vehicle should be mandatory. Mobile phone cameras are ideal for recording accident information for incidents that take place in shops or other public places.
Don’t admit liability for any accident
At a car accident scene it is important not to take responsibility. Indeed, many insurance policies have a stipulation prohibiting you from admitting liability. Silence regarding responsibility is the smartest thing to do at an accident scene. Even in instances where the other driver is completely to blame, be sure to keep up a polite front and readily exchange contact information after ensuring that they are not injured themselves.
This is also the case when you suffer an injury from an accident at work. Make sure that all details pertaining to the accident are recorded and again, do not admit that you were in any way to blame for the accident. Your solicitor will request a copy of the accident report book as well as any CCTV footage available. You could be under the impression that other parties are to blame for your accident when the situation may not be all that clear. The whole issue of establishing liability is the main reason why you need to contact your solicitor as soon as possible.
Will my Personal Injury Claim require attendance in a court?
When it comes to personal injury claims, this is one of the most frequently asked questions by plaintiffs of their solicitors. The solicitor and their legal team will meticulously prepare the case with the presumption that it will go ahead as planned. In actual fact however, only a small proportion of personal injury claims (about 3%) ever make it as far as court. The rest of the time, all of the parties concerned will have come to a mutually acceptable agreement long before the prospect of court looms. Personal injury claims only see a courtroom when the parties have failed to come to terms. Perhaps the plaintiff feels short changed or else the defendant is unwilling to pay so high a price. Judges generally dislike overseeing compensation cases when the amount in question is the only issue in dispute as they feel this wastes valuable court time.
Another reason for a court date could be the fact that the defendant doesn’t feel liable for the accident and refuses to pay any damages or accept any responsibility. In many cases, the parties come to an agreement even after the court date has been set and there have been occasions where an agreement has been made on the day of the scheduled case.
The plaintiff is in complete charge of their claim. This means that the legal team overseeing your case can only advise you with regards to the amount you should accept, they cannot end the case without your permission. Their job is to give you their opinion as to what your case is worth and whether you should accept the offer made to you. This is a massive decision to make because the defendant (barring a rare exception) pays the compensation in full once the claim has been settled in your favour. This means that even if more serious injuries manifest themselves and require costly medical treatment afterwards, you cannot claim a penny more from the defendant once the final ruling in the case has been made.
The full amount of compensation that a plaintiff can hope to receive varies depending on the precise circumstances of the case as no two personal injury claims are the same, nor are the people involved or the injuries sustained. In the beginning, it will be next to impossible to place a completely accurate figure on your case. Your solicitor is there to help you receive the amount that the injuries sustained by you in your personal injury claim warrant. They cannot offer you an opinion on how bad your injury is, how it will affect your life or how long it will take to recover. Their job is to come up with the strongest case they can with the facts at their disposal. They will need medical records from your GP as well as reports from specialists and any visits to hospital that were necessary as a result of the accident.
Once they have taken your instructions, your solicitor will need documents like medical reports from any GP’s or medical institutions you have visited. These reports are preliminary and their main purpose is to determine which court proceedings are necessary.
The amount of compensation awarded is not proportional to the size of the accident you are involved in as personal injury claims are only successful if you sustain an actual injury. Unless you are able to prove that you have suffered psychological trauma from the accident, its size is irrelevant in comparison to the amount of physical injuries suffered. Usually however, your solicitor and their legal team will speak of the dramatic and violent nature of the accident when negotiating with the defendant’s legal team and will do their utmost to ensure that your claim is seen in such a light that you will receive the compensation you deserve. This is especially the case when the defendant is accused of grossly negligent behaviour such as drink driving.
Normally, the full costs of any medical treatments already performed or due to be performed will be compensated. Ask your solicitor for full details and always keep your medical bill receipts.
Personal Injury Types
The seriousness of an injury as well as its impact on the victim’s future determine their value. Injuries that are of a permanent nature or are persistent will also be a significant factor in finding out the value of a case.
Prognosis of injuries
If an injury is believed to be capable of causing long term problems for an accident victim then obviously it will be compensated more heavily than smaller injuries. If the plaintiff is young, then serious long term injuries will result in the most compensation. The logic behind this is clear. The younger you are, the longer you have to suffer the consequences and the larger portion of your life that has been affected by the injury. If a 30 year old loses their leg, they may have to live 50 or more years with it while a 70 year old in the same situation may suffer in this manner for 10 years. The value of your personal injury claim will also rise if a doctor says that your injuries will require future specialist medical care.
Your Medical History
This is vital when it comes to assessment of your claim. Should it be proven that you have suffered previous injuries to the same part of your anatomy that was injured in the accident, your claim could be affected considerably. It will need to be ascertained whether the accident caused an injury or merely worsened a condition that already existed.
Affect on your quality of life
Besides the impact of the injury on your employment status, other aspects of your life need to be analysed to see if the accident has damaged them. This varies depending on the plaintiff’s passions and hobbies. For example, a bad knee injury could be viewed as being more serious if it can be proven that the victim was a talented and keen footballer.
Is the pain persistent, consistent and severe?
When you make a personal injury claim, the amount of suffering that you are forced to undergo dictates the amount of compensation you receive. If it is proven that the accident has left you with an injury that causes you severe pain on a consistent basis, the amount of compensation received will be much higher.
Effect on Earnings
This can be seen as a separate issue from any personal injury claim, nonetheless, it presents solicitors with a frustrating challenge and plaintiffs with confusion. It is common for plaintiffs to compare their claim with that of an acquaintance who received £50,000 more for an injury of a similar nature. This disparity in settlement can be explained because of the loss of earnings suffered by a victim due to a lengthy absence from work. Therefore, the settlement will vary depending on the salary earned by the plaintiff as well as the amount of time they are out of work. When it comes to loss of earnings, the severity of the injury only matters when it stops the person from working. As different people have different jobs, what affects one person severely may not have much of an impact on another person’s profession. For example, a writer will not suffer in the same way as a footballer from a leg injury.
Statute of Limitations
The solicitor must first find out when an accident occurred in order to make sure that a personal injury claim is valid. The Statue of Limitations in the UK allows a plaintiff to make a claim up to three years from the date of the accident. This means that it is imperative that the victim of an accident contacts their solicitor as soon after the accident as possible. Barring a few specific examples, your opportunity to proceed with a claim will be gone after three years. Unless your circumstances match one of the situations discussed below, your solicitor will not be able to assist you.
When children sustain injuries
When a minor sustains injuries in an accident and their parent or guardian wants to pursue a personal injury claim on their behalf, they are allowed extra time to make the claim. The aforementioned Statute of Limitations does not affect children until they reach their eighteenth birthday. Therefore, a minor has until their twenty-first birthday to make a personal injury claim. Should they make the claim before their eighteenth birthday, their parent or guardian will act as their ‘next friend’ and the case will proceed under the adult’s name. Despite having extra time however, it would be prudent to contact your solicitor as soon as you can if you would like to make a personal injury claim.
Calculating the Statute of Limitations
As long as you contact your solicitor as soon as you can after an accident, your claim should remain valid as every solicitor in the country knows about the time constraints. As long as the requisite forms are lodged with the appropriate authorities, your claim should be in safe hands. Generally speaking, the main dates of concern are the day the accident occurred, the expiry date of your claim (three years from date of accident) and the date when the relevant forms are lodged.
No Win, No Fee
Don’t forget, many personal injury claims can be made on a no win, no fee basis. This means that if you do not receive any compensation from your claim, you will not be charged any legal fees or costs whatsoever, as all of this is covered by the legal firm who take your case. So if you feel that you have a valid personal injury claim, contact your solicitor as you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.