It is fairly common knowledge that under the Limitation Act of 1980 you have three years from the date of an accident to lodge a claim for compensation. This prompts the question, should you act sooner rather than later when pursuing personal injury compensation? Are there any reasons why you might delay lodging a compensation claim?
Extension of three-year period
Before we look at the reasons why you should pursue a personal injury claim sooner rather than later, it is important to clarify the three-year period during which you can lodge a compensation claim. We know that the vast majority of claims are lodged well before the three-year deadline, although this is not always the case.
We have seen situations where injuries/medical conditions have not been diagnosed until many years down the line. Examples include:-
- Hearing loss
- Asbestos-related issues
- Clinical negligence
- Vibration white finger
- Repetitive strain injuries
- Industrial diseases
If we take asbestos-related issues, many claims have been lodged under exceptional circumstances and in many cases proven, decades down the line. Many people automatically assume it can be difficult to associate a recent medical condition with actions many years ago in their everyday working life.
In the case of asbestos, there is strong evidence to link the emergence of various medical issues many years down the line after the initial exposure. We have seen great strides in medical science and the ability to prove a direct link between working practices of years gone by, or even a one-off accident, and the development of medical conditions/injuries many years later.
Reasons to pursue your personal injury claim sooner rather than later
The vast majority of personal injury claims are pursued almost immediately after the incident in question. However, we also know that many people will delay lodging their claim for various reasons such as:-
- Potential workplace difficulties if a claim involves their employer
- Claims against friends/family
- Initial reluctance to make a claim
- Inability to cover legal expenses
- The impact of injury/medical conditions
It is important to remember that even if you decide against legal action in the early days, you can change your mind within the three-year period (and in certain situations beyond as detailed above). However, there are numerous reasons why it is sensible to consider legal action sooner rather than later.
Memories can fade
When we strip away the various elements of any legal action, it often comes down to one thing, detailed and believable evidence. Even with the best will in the world, memories can fade and we can sometimes see accidents and incidents from a different angle, in a different light, further down the line. When giving evidence in support of a personal injury claim it is important that:-
- Your evidence is clear and concise
- Your recollection of events is accurate
- There is no temptation to embellish evidence
- There are no “grey” areas
If a defence lawyer was to see any degree of uncertainty, or change in court evidence compared to your initial statement, they would have a field day. So, while many of us believe we have the memory of an elephant, it may not be as clear when it comes to dates, details and the finer points.
Defects are repaired
Quite understandably, when you have suffered a personal injury as a consequence of an accident, gathering evidence is probably the last thing on your mind. However, if you were injured as a consequence of substandard road repairs or damage to pathways as examples, it is important to gather evidence as soon as possible.
If we look at a hypothetical situation, imagine that you tripped on a damaged curb, causing significant injury to your leg. The central plank of your case may be photographic evidence of the damaged curb. What would happen if between the date of your injury and your return to the location, the damage had been reported by a member of the public, and repaired by the council?
Yes, there would be documentary evidence to confirm the damaged curb had been repaired. However, it might be difficult to prove the extent of the damage which led to your injury. In a best case scenario, you would have obtained photographic evidence almost immediately after the accident. This would be set in stone, showing the extent of the damage and the part it played in your accident.
It is worth noting that damage could be repaired almost immediately after your accident, so what chance would you have of obtaining photographic evidence nearly 3 years down the line?
Witnesses might not be available
We know that third party witness statements carry a lot of credibility when it comes to legal action. As these parties often have no connection with the claimant, they are seen as unbiased and offering a balanced opinion. Even if you gather witness statements and contact details, in the immediate aftermath of your accident, it is better to act sooner rather than later with your claim.
Witnesses may not be available further down the line for a number of reasons including:-
- Change of mobile number
- Change of email address
- Moved house
- Name change
So, while gathering witness statements and details in the immediate aftermath of your injury makes perfect sense, you also need to act. This also leads on to the subject of “fading of memories” which can be as much of a problem for witnesses as it can be for a claimant.
Legal expense insurance may expire
The vast majority of personal injury compensation claims are pursued on a no-win no-fee agreement. This often means the claimant giving up 25% of their compensation as payment to their personal injury claim solicitor. However, many claimants will have a degree of legal expense insurance as part of a household policy, car policy or other type of insurance.
In some cases, they would use their insurance to cover legal expenses when pursuing a claim. Unfortunately, the availability of this insurance cover is often limited to 3 months after an accident. So, if you were to, quite legally, delay your personal injury claim by one year, two years or even three years, it is likely that your legal expenses cover would have expired. If your claim is in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pounds, a 25% payment to your solicitor can seem a lot to give up. On the other hand, the more compensation a solicitor is able to claim the more money they make so it’s in their interest and their clients interest to cover every angle and claim as much compensation as possible.
Defendant may be difficult to locate
Whether pursuing a business, employer or an individual for injuries received as a consequence of their negligence, as time goes by they can become difficult to locate. If we take a business/employer, the company may have been:-
- Closed down
- Taken over
- Gone into administration
- Changed name
While there are ways and means of tracing companies, using Companies House records for example, it is not always easy. If you are coming to the end of your three year claim period, this can cause difficulties and could see you exceeding the time bar limit.
On a more positive note, where your claim is against a company which is no longer active, you may find they had insurance in place at the time of your accident. It may therefore be possible to obtain details of the insurance policy/company and make a claim directly against the insurance company. Even if the policy has been discontinued, if it was live at the time and cover was available, the insurance company may still be legally obliged to cover your claim (if proven). Worth checking out!
Dangerous machinery replaced
Akin to the above comments regarding the repair of roadside curbs, the same principle may apply with machinery in the workplace. If you decide to pursue a compensation claim further down the line, you may find that the dangerous machinery responsible for your accident has been repaired or replaced. Even if there are individuals still available to give evidence regarding the previous condition of the machinery, time can again fade memories and lead to a degree of uncertainty.
We know that visual evidence carries a lot of weight in the court room, something which may be impossible to obtain if the machinery has been repaired or replaced.
CCTV coverage not available
When it comes to road traffic accidents, many personal injury claims will involve CCTV coverage which can provide a detailed account of the incident. It will depend upon the location of the CCTV, but many private companies will only retain CCTV recordings from a matter of months rather than years. It may be different for local authorities and public bodies, where funding/resources may not be such an issue, but do not automatically assume that CCTV recordings are kept forever and a day.
You should consider securing a copy of CCTV coverage of your accident in the immediate aftermath, in case you decide to pursue a compensation claim further down the line. However, if you have been injured then very often this is the last thing on your mind.
Changes to the law
Whether we like it or not, laws tend to change on a regular basis and very often this can reduce your chances of a successful prosecution – or even remove your right to lodge a claim for compensation. We have recently seen a number of legislative adjustments by the UK government in relation to personal injury compensation claims. In some cases these changes have reduced the level of funding/resources available to pursue even legitimate compensation claims.
Even though the broader laws covering legal action, and in particular personal injury claims, may remain fairly constant, the devil is very often in the detail. As a consequence, it is advisable to at least investigate potential legal action sooner rather than later.
Are there any benefits in delaying your claim?
This now brings us onto the question of potential benefits in delaying your personal injury claim. In all honesty it is difficult to find any legitimate reasons for delaying your claim but borderline reasons may include:-
- Change in employment, clearing the way to suing your previous employer for negligence
- Ongoing medical issues which may lead to further deterioration
- Change in personal circumstances
- Realisation that you were the victim of negligence
Ongoing medical issues, with the potential for further deterioration is an interesting area of discussion. If you were to pursue a personal injury compensation claim in the early days, and your medical condition did deteriorate further after your case, it is unlikely that you could pursue additional compensation. The majority of personal injury compensation awards are one-off payments which cannot be revisited in the future, unless under exceptional circumstances.
Taking professional advice
While the three-year window of opportunity in which you can pursue a personal injury compensation claim is very useful, it may be very sensible to pursue legal action sooner rather than later. Consequently, it is important to take professional advice at the earliest opportunity, even if you were to delay any court action. This might give you the opportunity to gather evidence in the immediate aftermath of your accident which could prove vital in the future.
Even though there are some legitimate reasons why a claimant may delay the lodging of a personal injury claim, in a perfect world it makes sense to take action sooner rather than later. Memories fade, evidence may not be available further down the line and witnesses could prove difficult to trace. Experienced personal injury claims solicitors are able to offer guidance and assistance for potential victims of negligence. This is something you should consider sooner rather than later.