In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there have been concerns expressed regarding personal injury claims. It is fair to say that the pandemic has impacted every area of personal and business life and will do for some time to come. Thankfully, many insurance companies and personal injury solicitors have taken a pragmatic and sensible approach to the challenges. We will now take a look at some of the issues raised and how these are being addressed.
It is fairly common knowledge that personal injury claims must be lodged no later than three years after becoming aware of an injury/illness brought on by negligence. There are extenuating circumstances with regards to claimants aged below 18 but in general, you must lodge a claim within three years of diagnosis. Obviously, with the UK legal system significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, leading to delays in lodging paperwork and fulfilling legal obligations, time-barred activities are under extreme pressure.
Thankfully, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) took a very sensible approach to this problem from an early stage. Initially, there was an agreement in place up until 13 April whereby time-barred obligations missed as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic would be extended. This has since been further extended up to 20 May with another review due on 13 May. It is unlikely that we will revert back to “normal” on May 21st but time will tell.
At this moment in time, only key businesses are open as normal with many in the legal/advisory profession having reverted to working from home. This should keep the legal wheels of the UK moving but a number of companies have also been forced to furlough staff. As a consequence, many legal businesses and personal injury claims companies will be working with skeleton staff for some time. Therefore, whether you are pursuing a personal injury claim or defending an action, it may take some time for advisors to come back to you with any queries you may have.
Even though the UK government appears open to a partial lifting of the lockdown in early May this is by no means a certainty. Also, even if this was to happen we don’t know at this moment in time which types of businesses would be allowed to reopen. However, it is safe to say that without the Internet this partial paralysis of the UK legal system would have been even worse.
Thankfully, government guidance suggests that the expected surge in COVID-19 admissions has so far been less than expected for the UK NHS. While this may change in the days and weeks ahead, a significant percentage of NHS activity is currently focused on treating those with the coronavirus. As a consequence, there may be issues with regards to medical examinations which are often a focal point of personal injury claims:-
- Many GP surgeries are still closed
- Those GP surgeries open are focusing on the coronavirus
- No non-urgent GP home visits
- Non-urgent medical examinations have been delayed
- Many private healthcare practices are closed for business
This situation is unlikely to change in the short to medium term and as a consequence, some evidence required to pursue personal injury claims will be delayed. As mentioned above, action taken by the ABI (on a voluntary basis) should negate the impact of delays experienced by claimants and defendants.
Despite restrictions on our movement across the UK, there are still reports of accidents both inside and outside of the workplace. Unfortunately, traditional evidence gathering methods may well have been compromised as a consequence of the coronavirus. Some of the issues to consider include:-
- Social distancing
- Reduced staffing levels
- Delays in medical treatment
- New working regulations
- Use of additional safety equipment
In the event that you have suffered a personal injury, you should still gather as much information as possible at the scene and take the contact details of witnesses to call on at a later date. This must all be done within the current social distancing/lockdown regulations which can in certain circumstances make it very challenging.
The regulatory and practical obligations of employers can be complicated at the best of times. We can only imagine the additional work undertaken by company directors and HR departments to cover all potential eventualities in the current environment. If you are an employer then it is probably best to take outside advice with regards to health and safety and the new working environment.
While many of the changes required to ensure the safe well-being of employees will vary from business to business, there are some general issues to take into consideration such as:-
- Additional employee safety measures
- Circulation of new working regulations
- Additional safety signage
- Supply of hand wash/sanitiser
- Additional safety equipment requirements
- Update on staff training
While not suggesting that injuries caused as a consequence of negligence will be dismissed, the courts may look more favourably on employers who took “reasonable precautions” in the current unprecedented times. Therefore, it is vital that all changes are documented, staff training (both on-site and remote) continues and the working environment reflects the new regulatory framework.
Time will tell but there is every chance that the time-honoured process of early partial payments when negligence has been accepted but compensation has not been fixed will continue. Indeed, there is a growing opinion that early partial payments by insurance companies should be considered as a matter of course where there are significant delays with relatively straightforward cases. This is where your personal injury claims solicitor comes into play. It is their role, where applicable, to request early partial payments which will be offset against final compensation rulings.
While the UK government has introduced a variety of financial assistance measures for those suffering as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, there are certain areas of society who still fall through the cracks. Therefore, it is vital that those pursuing legitimate and relatively straightforward compensation for personal injuries are considered in a more sympathetic light.
Companies in liquidation/out of business
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the UK government has made available literally billions of pounds to save businesses, many will struggle and some will fail. This begs the question, how do you pursue a personal injury claim where the defendant is in liquidation or has gone out of business?
Many people will be surprised to learn that there are still ways and means of making personal injury claims against liquidated/dissolved businesses. In theory, and often from a legal point of view, all businesses should have relevant corporate insurance in place to cover accidents, injuries, and compensation claims. So, even if a business is not trading today you can still pursue a personal injury compensation claim as this would be directed at the company’s previous insurance company.
So long as the company had the appropriate insurance cover in place when the claimant was injured (remember this takes in physical and mental injuries) then they are still legally obliged to pay out if negligence is proven. However, in order to give yourself the best chance of a successful claim, you will need:-
- Details of how, when and where the accident occurred
- Full details of the company you wish to claim against
- Details of the company’s insurance provider
- Contact details for the official liquidator
- Itemised financial losses incurred as a consequence of injury
- Medical evidence and other supporting reports
Obviously, it makes more sense to direct all personal injury claims through a personal injury claims solicitor. Unfortunately, while in theory pursuing a claim against an insurance company which acted for a liquidated/dissolved operation is easy – in practice it can be difficult.
The longer the period between the injury/diagnosis and subsequent financial issues for the company, the more complicated it can become. However, this should not stop individuals from pursuing perfectly valid claims.
Patience and consideration
We are living in unprecedented times and at this moment it is unclear when life will return to “normal”. Therefore, all parties involved in personal injury claims will need to be patient and considerate of the challenges faced by others. While the legal profession has a reputation for being particularly cold, there is always a degree of flexibility for extenuating circumstances. We are living in these times.
We are living in unprecedented times both in the UK and across the globe. We are seeing the introduction of new rules and regulations on a regular basis with social distancing and the lockdown having a huge impact on businesses. That said this is not an excuse for businesses to relax their health and safety activities, in fact many would argue that these will need to be tightened even further. So long as businesses can prove they took “reasonable action” to protect their employees in the current environment this should help when defending compensation claims.
Thankfully, all parties involved in the personal injury claims sector have shown an understanding of the challenges in the short to medium term especially with regards to time-barred activities. Even when the lockdown has been lifted and businesses return to “normal” there will still be a huge backlog of court cases and legal actions. Due to coronavirus, it may take many months to work through live and future personal injury claims but that should not stop those with legitimate claims from pursuing compensation.