A Guide To Personal Injury
It is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience, and the following may assist you on your journey.
• Who do I contact?
The first person to contact is a specialist Personal Injury Lawyer, preferably somebody who is a member of Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL); they should be able to advise you at an early stage whether you may have a valid claim.
• How will I pay for it?
Many firms will offer an initial interview free of charge. We do so, and in appropriate cases are happy to visit clients at home for the initial assessment. You may have legal expenses insurance (check your household, contents, car insurance policies; credit card; or you may be a member of a union) If so, they may pay for the cost of making the claim. If not, many solicitors will act under a no win – no fee arrangement.
• Will I get all my money or will the solicitors take it?
In almost every case, you should expect to receive all of your damages. Your solicitor should not take a percentage of your settlement.
• What needs to be done?
You will need to prove that the other party was to blame and that you suffered injury because of it. If you do, you are entitled to damages for your injury (generally assessed with medical evidence); special damages (e.g. lost earnings, medication, treatment, travel expenses, care etc); and in more serious cases future losses (for example lost earnings if you cannot return to work). In simple cases it may be possible to give you a rough idea of what sort of damages you can expect at an early stage; in complex and serious cases that cannot be done until the extent of your recovery is known.
• How long will it take?
Again this will depend on how serious the injury is, and whether the insurers admit the claim or defend it. Simple cases may settle within a year; complex cases may take several years to finalise.
• I have no money to live on, what can I do?
If liability is accepted, your solicitor may be able to obtain an interim payment, on account of your damages, and if necessary you should discuss this with him. Interim payments cannot be obtained where liability is disputed.
• How long do I have to make a claim?
Generally speaking, a claim must be brought (i.e. proceedings, actually issued) within 3 years of the accident. For children, it is within 3 years from the age of 18. Different time limits apply abroad, at sea etc.
There may be rare circumstances where the time limit can be extended; you will require special advice on this, so do not automatically assume that if it is after 3 years you have no chance. On the other hand, seek advice as quickly as possible.
• The insurers have made an early offer to settle my case. Should I accept it?
Generally speaking, be cautious of any early offers from the defendant. For example, £1,000.00 may seem attractive, but if you are going to have months or even years of suffering, or incur losses, once you accept that offer you cannot come back for me, (usually made out of the blue), the claim is finished. Remember, the other side’s insurers are not there to help you, but to save themselves money. Always seek specialist advice.
• My legal expenses insurer wants to use solicitors in another part of England. Do I have to accept that?
Some legal expenses insurers wish to instruct their own panel solicitors, many of whom are hundreds of miles away, as they have special arrangements with them. In a very simple, straight forward case, that is not a problem. However, if you have a serious or complex injury, you would probably be better served by a local solicitor, with the necessary specialist skills, who would be able to see you and your family to assess the problems and needs, and he will also know the best local medical experts to help you, which someone somewhere else may not be able to do. My advice is to always have a good local solicitor, except in the most simple of cases.
• So do I have to accept my legal expenses insurers appointed solicitors?
No. Provided that you have a reasonably good case, a local specialist solicitor would probably be prepared to enter into some alternative arrangement, which again should not cost you. In any event, even if you start with your insurer’s appointed solicitor, you can insist on transferring to a solicitor of your own choice once proceedings are issued; or alternatively you can insist that your legal expenses insurer covers your legal costs with your appointed solicitors, from the date of issue of proceedings. They cannot then reasonably object.
• Can I change my Solicitor?
Generally speaking, yes. If you are unhappy with the way your case is handled, or the advice you receive or if you feel your solicitor does not understand your case, you are entitled to seek a second opinion, and to change solicitor if necessary.