On the surface the stages of a personal injury claim seem fairly straightforward, lodge your claim, try to agree a settlement, and go to court if necessary. However, there are set procedures for those looking to lodge a personal injury claim and a fairly general timetable to pursue it as far as possible. We will now take a look at the different stages, what they mean and how they might impact an eventual settlement and court case.
Appointing A Representative
The vast majority of people who pursue a personal injury claim will do so with some kind of legal representation to ensure their case is presented in the correct manner. This could be a personal injury claims management company or a solicitor of their choosing. There are plenty of personal injury claims management companies/ solicitors who specialise in this area and more than enough information on the Internet to find one for your situation.
On occasion you may be cold-called by a management company or legal representatives who have heard about your potential case and would like to discuss the issue in more detail. Remember, you do not have to take on a representative just because they contacted you, it is up to you who presents your case and you should be wary of taking up random offers without further investigation.
Once you have appointed a representative the next stage is what is known as “pre-action protocols” which is a set procedure. Once the third party has been identified they will be sent a “letter of claim” which will set out in detail exactly what happened to the claimant and any injuries suffered (both mental and physical) as far as they can be assessed at that moment in time.
The third party has 21 days to respond and acknowledge a “letter of claim” – this may be directly from the company/ individual, through their solicitors or via their insurance company. The vast majority of claims will be passed to the defendant’s insurance company and they will likely deal with the claim on their behalf. After the initial response, within the 21 day period, the defendant is allowed a three-month period during which they can use to investigate the claim in more detail. At the end of this period they will need to acknowledge whether they accept or deny legal responsibility.
Gathering Detailed Evidence Of The Accident
If the defendant denies liability then a period of evidence gathering will commence for the claimant. This is the point at which all evidence should be placed on the table to make the case as strong as possible and ensure that no stone is left unturned. This would include things such as statements from witnesses to the incident or those who have knowledge of equipment deemed to have led to the accident. As the evidence gathering stage could be up to 3 months and 21 days down the line from your initial claim it is imperative that details are written down at the time of the incident which can be reviewed at a later date.
Remember, if there are any discrepancies in your evidence this could weaken your case and in some circumstances ruin your chances of a settlement.
Gathering Medical Evidence
In some circumstances, where a defendant has acknowledged liability, there may not be a requirement to gather detailed evidence about the accident itself. It may be possible to move straight to medical evidence but this will also be vital if liability has not been accepted. While each case will be different, medical evidence gathering could incorporate something as simple as access to your GP and hospital records while in other cases you may need to see a specialist in a particular field. Any reports drawn up to support a personal injury claim will be made available to the defendant whether or not they have accepted liability.
As well as details of the initial injuries caused by the accident, claimants will also need to keep a note of how they affect their day-to-day life. Issues such as the impact on your working life, personal life and additional expenses can also be taken into consideration. Again, as medical evidence will be gathered potentially more than three months after placing a claim, and sometime after the initial incident, it is imperative that detailed notes are made along the way. If a claim is proven there is every chance that the claimant will be able to reclaim an array of additional costs such as taxi fares if they have been unable to drive because of the incident.
Negotiating A Potential Settlement
This is the pre-court stage where a potential settlement can be negotiated whether liability has previously been accepted or denied. The fact is that all parties involved want a fair and reasonable settlement as quickly as possible to reduce legal costs and court time.
On one side the claimant would be taking advice from their representatives while on the other side the defendant would be doing likewise. It is unlikely that the claimant and the defendant will meet across the negotiating table instead allowing their representatives to try and come to an arrangement. However, at the end of the day it is the claimant who will have the final say over whether any potential settlement is accepted.
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While the majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court there are many claims where agreement cannot be reached in the negotiating stage. It is worth noting that issuing proceedings at court is time constrained to within three years of the date of the accident or, where a child is involved, three years from the date of their 18th birthday. The claim form and particulars of claim sent to the court will set out the basis of the claim and the amount the claimant is seeking in settlement.
Fast-track And Multi-track Court Proceedings
At this stage, where a claim is worth less than £25,000, a trial would not last more than one day. There may be exceptions to this but in general the fast track system ensures that any claim is heard in the courts within 30 weeks of the case being allocated. During this period the defence and the prosecution will exchange the evidence they wish to present and again there may be opportunities for a pre-trial settlement.
The multitrack system covers claims of £25,000 and above where there is likely to be complications and possible expert witnesses. In these circumstances a general timetable would be issued by the court so that all parties are aware of dates going forward.
Settling Out Of Court
There will be numerous occasions to settle out of court once a personal injury claim has been placed on record and proceedings begin towards a potential court case. Inevitably there will be some disputed personal injury claims, where court proceedings are unavoidable, but where there is potential to come to an arrangement prior to court time, all parties will act in the best interests of their client.
It is imperative that any claimants, and defendants for that matter, are fully aware of the procedure and any legal requirements. In many areas the timetable is flexible but any evidence to be placed before the courts must be made available to both parties prior to it being presented. A competent representative will ensure that you are kept in the loop with regards to any developments and any proposals from the defendant. However, as we mentioned above, it is worth noting that the final decision will always be down to the claimant.
It is imperative that claimants take professional advice when pursuing a personal injury claim as regulations and timescales may vary.