If you have been injured in an accident and someone else was to blame, you are likely to want some kind of redress. This generally takes the form of a compensation claim. Some people shy away from compensation claims, concerned that the legal process will be complicated and expensive. However, as Richard Blair, personal injury solicitor at WBW Solicitors in Paignton explains, the personal injury claims process should not be overwhelming.
There is a time limit – the “limitation period” – for bringing any personal injury claim. Generally, if the claim is not settled, Court proceedings have be started within three years of the events which give rise to the claim. It is usually clear when that period starts. It’s the date of the accident. However, special rules apply in deciding the time limit for bringing industrial disease cases and other claims where injury takes place “by process” over time. If the case does not settle and if Court proceedings are not started before the end of the limitation period, generally the claim will become time barred. In unusual circumstances, it may not be too late to issue proceedings after the limitation period has ended. A solicitor can advise you.
A child has 3 years from his or her 18th birthday to settle the claim or start Court proceedings. If the Claimant lacks capacity, this ‘limitation period’ will not operate at all. It will not start unless and until the protected person regains capacity.
To make a claim successfully, you must prove that the person responsible for causing you injury and financial loss acted negligently or breached a statutory “duty of care”. If the claim is to succeed, you the Claimant have to prove
- That there was a breach of duty of care and
- That Injury and loss was caused by the breach of duty.
If your claim is worth £25,000 or less, your solicitor will generally submit it through a claims portal. Claims brought in the portal follow specific rules and there are time limits for taking important steps. Your solicitor will take those steps on your behalf.
Both parties are expected to behave openly and frankly, to put their “cards on the table”. The aim is to encourage both sides to exchange information at an early stage. The Defendant needs to be able to decide whether or not the claim he should fight or settle.
Defendants have to consider whether Claimants are likely to respond positively to early medical treatment.
Both parties are expected actively to consider and take part in mediation and other forms of “alternative dispute resolution”.
Where the value of the claim is likely to be greater than £25,000, it is not appropriate to pursue it through the portal. The same is true of certain types of claim, including those involving the development of an industrial diseases and those involving illness caused by exposure to asbestos.
Your solicitor will be able to advise about the right way to bring the claim.
Claims brought outside the portal system begin when your solicitor sends a Letter of Claim to the Defendant. It sets out the case in fact and law, explains why the claim is being made and the reasons the Defendant is called upon to pay compensation. It will also say something about the type of injuries you have suffered and will give a broad outline of the financial losses incurred.
The Defendant – or an insurance company acting for the Defendant – has 21 days to acknowledge the Letter of claim and then a further three months to investigate and send a formal Letter of Response. The Response should either accept liability or explain why liability is denied.
If the Defendant admits liability, your solicitor will make arrangements for the preparation of medical evidence and for your financial losses to be calculated. It may be possible to negotiate terms for settlement. If a fair compensation figure cannot be reached, your solicitor and the Defendant may try to agree a settlement using alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation. If no settlement can be reached it may then be necessary to start formal legal proceedings.
If the Defendant denies liability and refuses to negotiate a settlement, the claim can only continue if Court proceedings are issued. If the Defendant does not respond to the Letter of Claim, you will almost certainly have to start Court proceedings.
Whatever the nature of your claim, it is important to consult a specialist personal injury solicitor. He or she will ensure that your claim is presented in the most compelling way and has the greatest chance of success. The solicitor will help you gather the evidence you need to make the claim successfully. Statements will be prepared on behalf of witnesses. The solicitor will also arrange for you to be examined by a medical expert – or experts – who will assess the nature, cause and extent of your injuries and the effect they have on your working and private life. This will have a major bearing on the value of your claim.
The solicitor will guide you through the legal process, and work hard to negotiate the best possible settlement.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.